The good news, for magazine publishers, is that the earthward plummet in newsstand sales has finally started to moderate. The bad news is that sales are still falling at a vertigo-inducing rate -- just not quite so rapidly as they were a few months ago.The Audit Bureau of Circulations, the industry body that tracks magazine and newsstand circulation, reported data from the second half of 2009 on Monday, and the numbers were a variation on a familiar theme. Aggregate single-copy (i.e., newsstand) sales for the 472 titles that report to ABC were down 9.1% versus the same period a year earlier. That compares to a 12.4% drop in the first half of 2009 and an 11.1% drop in second-half '08.

It's tempting to see this deceleration as the beginning of a turnaround for magazines, but that's almost certainly not the case. More likely, as the most marginal readers fall away -- the ones who are price- or economy-sensitive, or who are young and fickle in their media-consumption patterns -- what's left is a harder core of habitual readers.

Of the 25 titles that sell the most copies on the newsstand, only six -- Wenner Media's Us Weekly, Hearst's O: The Oprah Magazine and Seventeen, Condé Nast's Vanity Fair, and Time Warner's (TWX) People StyleWatch and Real Simple -- managed to sell more copies in 2009 than in 2008. The biggest increase was at Real Simple, which sold 411,705 copies per issue, up 6.2%. Four of the top 25 suffered double-digit decreases, with Hearst's Good Housekeeping sliding the most (-30.8%).

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