On the Newsstand, Audited Magazines Continue to Slide
By John Harrington
The Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) released its Snapshot reports for the first half of 2013 last week, and most readers of The New Single Copy are surely aware by now that the downward trend that began more five years is continuing. As calculated by Harrington Associates*, total units were down 11% and retail dollars fell 10.6%.
Some Noteworthy Points. Last week, Magazine Information Network (MagNet) released its preliminary numbers for all retail sales, audited and non-audited. The results are not significantly different from AAM. Actually, unit sales were off by a little more: MagNet down 12%, versus AAM down 11%. Dollars were not much different either: MagNet down 9.7%, versus AAM down 10.6%. While acknowledging that sales of so-called bookazines, which are nearly all non-audited, have been a positive factor, they still have not offset the on-going dreary figures for all titles, audited and non-audited. Their relatively high cover prices did lessen the rate of decline for dollars. For the record, our analyses found that total paid subscription sales went down as well, albeit by a miniscule 1.7%. Throw in verified numbers and the fall-off was even smaller, 0.7%.
Generally, observers have been focusing on the sad performance of the past five-plus years, where total units are off by more than 40% and dollars by more than 30%. The New Single Copy decided to take a look at our review of the first half of 2003, ten years ago. Then, total unit sales for audited magazines were nearly 474 million copies. This year it's 250,000. That's a drop of 47.2%. Retail dollars went from more than $1.5 billion to $967 million, slipping 36.7%, and that's without any adjustment for inflation. Another point: The preliminary data for the first half of 2003 was based on 537 magazines with any single copy sales. This year the AAM reports contained only 346. Publishers seem to be making an emphatic statement about their confidence or lack of it in the retail marketplace.
In general I'm choosing not to focus on individual magazine performances. The pain is shared all around. However, for the first time a decade, perhaps more, Cosmopolitan is no longer the leader in single copy sales per-issue. Woman's World is the new leader, something it achieved despite seeing its average sales go down by 3.9%.
The Greater Challenge: Last week, we put forth some ideas for improving the structure of the magazine distribution channel, ideas we plan on exploring more deeply in the future. However, no matter how operationally sound a channel might be created, it will accomplish little if sales continue to evaporate. If a restructured or modified system does emerge, it must also include a plan for boosting consumption, an idea that has been voiced by several key newsstand executives.■