Newsstand sales of U.S. magazines fell 6.3 percent in the first half of 2008, an industry group said Monday, as rising gas and food costs led consumers to cut back on nonessential spending.
Most top titles, including best-selling Cosmopolitan and O, The Oprah Magazine, had sharp declines. Of the top 10 newsstand sellers, only People, the entertainment news magazine, and In Style posted gains.
“This is nothing more than really just the impact of the economy,” said John Harrington, an industry analyst with Harrington Associates. “People are shopping very cautiously and less frequently, avoiding impulse buys, which are what magazine purchases are.”
Publishers redouble efforts to sign up subscribers during economic slowdowns because they know newsstand sales will ebb, and they need to offset that because advertising rates are based on minimum circulation targets.
Newsstand sales are far more lucrative than subscriptions, though, meaning circulation revenue is dropping at most titles.
“It is easy to manipulate subscription numbers, because publishers can sell them at a loss just to meet their rate base,” Harrington said. “The growth may not be high-quality subscribers that will renew.”
Overall magazine circulation, which includes subscription and newsstand sales, was flat at 349.9 million copies in the period, as paid subscriptions edged higher to 290.2 million copies, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported in its biannual tally.
Single-copy magazine sales in the six months ended June 30 fell to 44.1 million copies from 47.1 million a year ago. The survey included 467 titles that reported results in both periods.
Like newspapers, magazines have been struggling with declining advertising revenue as readers increasingly go online for news and entertainment. In the second quarter, magazines had 8.2 percent fewer ad pages, the Publishers Information Bureau reported.
Hearst Corp.'s Cosmopolitan magazine, the top seller on the country's newsstands, had a 6 percent decline to 1.75 million copies — nearly 114,000 fewer magazines. Top 10 sellers US Weekly, Woman's World and O, The Oprah Magazine each posted a double-digit decline in newsstand sales.
People, published by Time Inc., boosted newsstand sales by 5.2 percent and remained the No. 2 best-selling magazine at kiosks around the country. In Style was also able to increase newsstand sales.
“People has been steady over the years, and there's probably more quality to the magazine in terms of what they do” compared with the crowded field of celebrity gossip titles, Harrington said.
Rolling Stone, the venerable music magazine, said Monday that it will abandon its iconic size for a smaller, more rack-friendly format starting in fall.
Publisher Jann Wenner said the change is not to conserve costs, but partly to offer advertisers and sellers a more uniform size.
The magazine had 6.6 percent lower newsstand sales of 115,644 issues in the latest period.