Magazines' Newsstand Sales Keep Plummeting

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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