Deep dive: a look at the latest information from Apple and the AAM concerning digital magazine app sales, circulation

Many popular U.S. magazines are entering the third year that they have audited their digital edition circulation

If you ever spend a long time as a newspaper or magazine publisher you learned to love numbers, and to tolerate forecasting, budgeting and P&Ls. Most journalists, it is generally accepted, are a bit allergic to numbers, which is why press releases for earnings always contain those financial highlights upfront – publishers hope reporters will latch onto them, ignoring the financial tables found at the bottom of the release.

But I love looking at numbers and sometimes they even reveal important information. But most of the time they are merely noise that may, or may not, contain a few tidbits of important information.

Today I spent a lot of time compiling circulation information that comes from several different sources and is not consistent. What I tried to find out was whether there was any correlation between what Apple says are the top grossing Newsstand apps and what the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) says are the top selling digital editions. As you will see, the two do not go to together to present a clear picture of digital edition circulation.

First the disclosures: not all consumer magazines are audited by the AAM, though almost all the major ones are. Digital-only magazines, and titles that do not rely on advertising (like Consumer reports), usually are not audited. Apple’s Top Grossing and Top Free Apps lists are compiled by Apple using their own secret sauce, and are not audited by anyone, nor cover any particular time frame.

Most importantly, a magazine’s digital edition circulation, as audited by AAM, is not the same as sales in the Apple Newsstand. Digital circulation can come from many different sources such as Zinio and other digital newsstands.

Here are the numbers:


Instructions: column 1 is the top grossing magazines according to Apple, with ten additional magazines added that are top free apps, but not listed among the top grossing titles. The last three columns are taken from information from the AAM: today’s Snapshot report which is the most recent, unaudited numbers through June of this year, followed by the June 2013 and June 2012 Publisher’s Statement numbers.

Of the 25 top grossing apps, according to Apple, only 11 make it into the top 25 digital editions audited by the AAM.

These numbers contain a lot of noise, but there are some things that stand out when you look at the AAM numbers. First, most magazines record a large jump in digital circulation in the second year they start auditing their sales numbers. There is a lag in reporting digital editions, but once the magazine has gone through the cycle a couple of times it appears that growth slows. Is this caused by discoverability issues? The fact that iPad sales in the U.S. have apparently slowed? It is hard to tell, but the impression many publishers have is that the gold rush is petering out.

I can not explain why Cosmopolitan’s digital circulation fell so much – I had to double and triple check those numbers to make sure they were right. Maybe when the actual reports are issued later on will we get an explanation.

One thing that stands out for me is that Apple’s way of recording sales and promoting apps is bizarre and quite random. Why The Week continues to show up in the charts, and is regularly promoted inside the Newsstand, feels like simply the decision of an App Store employee. Why Newsweek continues to be treated as a major magazine is another mystery.

Over time I may add to this spreadsheet and insert what other digital newsstands say are their most popular titles. Maybe then a clearer picture will emerge, though I doubt it.

Note: the table above was updated as the original graphic did not contain the latest numbers from the Snapshot report for some titles, but only for the Top 25 magazines. Also, it should be noted that The Economist does claim more digital circulation, though it can not be claimed as “digital replica” under AAM guidelines.

  • johnlepic 4 years ago

    “Is this caused by discoverability issues? The fact that iPad sales in the U.S. have apparently slowed? It is hard to tell, but the impression many publishers have is that the gold rush is petering out.”

    Or is it that a lot of readers don’t like the reading experience because so-called “designers” are just going nuts about bells and whistles?

    Oh yeah, right, the industry is awarding prizes to magazines which are mediocre at best and it shows in the readers’ ratings… For some magazines, half the readers would prefer a PDF replica over the interactive wowness…