WASHINGTON—Magazine circulation (overall sales of hardcopy) is continuing its creeping decline, not so much because people have lost interest, but due to economic realities.
Despite the decline, magazines are still one of the most favored media, as people still subscribe to magazines or read them for free at the doctor’s office, in waiting rooms, or in a library.
“I do believe magazines will exist. They offer … aspiration and inspiration,” said Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines in a recent Knowledge@Wharton (KW) article.
Over the past five years, magazine readership (as opposed to circulation) has increased by 5.7 percent, while television viewers have increased by less than 5 percent and the radio listening population by 2.9 percent. On the other hand, newspaper readership declined by almost 1 percent, according to the Magazine Publishers of America’s (MPA) 2009/10 Handbook.
MPA research suggests that it is not circulation that is affecting the magazine industry, but loss of advertisement contracts—as is the case with any other media. But a magazine’s staying power is much greater than those of newspapers.
Total magazine circulation in the second part of last year decreased by 2.23 percent, while subscription sales went down 1.12 percent and single-copy sales dropped by 9.1 percent, according to the February Audit Bureau of Circulation statistics.
Magazine sales spike when special issues—such as the Olympics or the Haitian earthquake—are published. In-depth stories about Michael Jackson’s death increased newsstand revenue by $55 million, according to MPA.
Therefore, consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co. spends close to $900 million annually for magazine advertisement. General Motors Co. spends a little more than half of that, and Kraft Foods Inc. spends close to $390 million a year in magazine advertising. The MPA Handbook 2009/10 details spending habits of 50 global companies.
These companies listen to media consultants, such as MPA, who tell them that purchasing by consumers is influenced by advertisements in magazines.
“BIGresearch found that magazines are one of the top four out of 17 possible media choices influencing the purchases of U.S. adult consumers,” according to MPA.
Most importantly, studies indicate that magazine advertisements do not lose effectiveness over a period of time, according to the MPA Handbook.
The latest trend is a shift to online publications. Magazines no longer solely rely on the sales of print copies from newsstands or other physical venues, but are making inroads through electronic media, such as Amazon.com.
One-fifth of all sales were made online in 2009. The number of online magazines has increased by 78 percent since 2005, and today there are more than 15,000 different types of magazines to choose from.
But online will not replace the printed media, as “Consumers who use both magazine websites and their print counterparts overwhelmingly state that the printed magazine still has value,” said MPA.
“The Kindle and other devices present a viable alternative to plain black and white text, but do not capture the full experience of a glossy magazine,” stated Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines, in a February Knowledge@Wharton (KW) article.
Companies that sell digital devices, such as Amazon.com Inc., control the income derived from advertisements and the customers using the devices, creating a problem for media companies such as the Hearst Group, which sells advertisement space. For example, Cosmopolitan, a Hearst magazine, charges on the average $80,000 a page and sells around 150 pages. The company earns roughly $12 million from advertising and slightly above $3 million from its customers.
Industry in Constant Flux
Staying alive and profitable is “a careful game,” Black said in the KW article.
Redesigning magazine print and online versions to pull in readers and cut costs is still as vital to the survival of a magazine as it was years ago.
With advertisement earnings down, Money Magazine, published by Time Inc., saw the need to redesign its magazine last April. The New York Times Magazine came out with a new design in June after it was told to cut about 9 percent of its pages. In November 2009, Wesleyan College announced that it would redesign its college magazine to save printing costs.
Psychologists suggest that societal outlook, demand, and expectations are in constant flux. Monitoring, adjusting, and redefining priorities are at the forefront of any business, especially when it comes to the circulation of magazines, newspapers, and any other media that depends on consumer interest.
Soon after John Davison joined GamePro Media, a media source for video game enthusiasts, he embarked on tearing down the existing magazine design and recently rolled out a new design for the January 2010 issue of GamePro. Sales of the print magazine almost doubled at Barnes & Noble; subscriptions doubled and online traffic increased by one-third the minute the newly redesigned magazine hit the streets and the airwaves.
“The media business is in an unbelievable swirl right now. It’s very exciting,” Black said in the KW article.