February 13, 2015 Last Updated 12:44 pm

Magazine industry fighting to tread water new circulation and ad page reports show

B2B ad pages for U.S. trade publications continues their steep decline, though gains in digital and non-publishing products, such as events, are leading to revenue growth

These remain difficult days for the magazine industry – on both sides of the Atlantic – as new reports from the ABC and AAM show many titles losing too many single copy buyers to be made up for with new digital readers.

Before talking about the numbers, let’s first repeat the same warnings I have stated in the past. It is lazy and ultimately inaccurate to take the latest reports released by the audit services, add up the columns and pronounce the findings as fact. There are plenty of variables. For instance, the addition of a magazine now reporting their digital circulation will make it appear that the numbers have jumped. That magazine may today report 50,000 in digital circulation, and in the last report nothing, but that does not mean they suddenly sold 50,000 digital subscriptions – just that they are now reporting that number. Also, a magazine that does not file in time does not mean they went from whatever they reported last period to zero.

OK, with that out of the way, here is the quick table showing the latest numbers for some of the top magazines in the U.S. and U.K.

US Magazines Digital Circ UK Magazines Digital Circ
Game Informer 2,822,437 The Economist 49,976
Competitor 295,600 T3 17,791
Shape 220,339 Times Educational Supplement 15,592
Star Magazine 200,670 BBC History Magazine 15,122
Maxim 195,527 BBC Top Gear Magazine 14,140
Cosmopolitan 173,546 Stuff 12,903
OK! Weekly 169,094 GQ 12,516
National Geographic 154,496 TIME-EMEA 12,211
Men's Health 141,628 Slimming World 11,653
Better Homes & gardens 137,753 Empire 11,625
Food Network Mag 125,769 Total Film 11,429
ESPN The Magazine 124,367 BBC Good Food 10,757
O-The Oprah Magazine 115,649 MacFormat 9,541
Women's Health 112,544 Men’s Health 9,490
Us Weekly 109,666 National Geographic 9,259
Popular Science 109,613 Vogue 8,528
HGTV Magazine 103,038 New Scientist 8,347
Motor Trend 99,368 Wired 8,316
Nylon 97,827 Vanity Fair 7,724
Men's Fitness 97,208 N Photo 7,184
Backpacker 91,658 OK! Magazine 6,775
New Yorker 90,812 New Scientist-US/Canada 6,402
People 90,745 Edge 6,347
Prevention 90,021 Digital Camera Magazine 5,916
Reader's Digest 86,681 Cycling Plus 5,824
Wired 86,012 Esquire 5,658
GQ 84,184 Cosmopolitan 5,494

Overall, the new AAM reports show that the loss of single copy sales is hurting magazine publishers who are not today able to make up the losses by adding digital subscribers. Working against them is the fact that for the past year Apple’s App Store team has worked at cross purposes with publishers, not maintaining the categories of the Newsstand and allowing scam artists to flood the digital newsstand with “magazines” to lure naive buyers.

Some publishers, such as Time Inc., appear to be banking on Next Issue Media to drive digital readership. Time Inc. magazines did show some digital growth this cycle, but one will have to wait until the publisher’s statements are released to see if this is being driven by NIM. In any case, the growth rates are low.

I’ll have much more to say about the new figures when one can examine the statements, but others are starting to see what I have been mentioning for a while: that publishers are being forced to maintain their rate bases via verified copies rather than paid. This is expensive and can not be maintained for long. But lower a rate base is something a publisher would like to avoid, even considering the added cost involved.

Things remain bleak in B2B. The latest BIN report showed that November was a terrible month for trade publishers in the U.S., with ad pages falling 12.59 percent. With one last report to go, ad pages had fallen 7.73 percent for the year.

Greenhouse-cover-200By way of comparison, through November of 2008, 793,356 pages had been counted by the BIN report, as publishers were only then being effected by the fiscal crisis. This November, ad pages stood at 477,207, a decline of nearly 40 percent.

Again, it would be wrong to say that every trade magazine is seeing that level of ad page decline as a number of titles have folded and are no longer being included in the reports. But the long anticipated rebound in B2B is not happening as print publishers had hoped.

Earlier this week, the ABM reported that B2B media revenue was at $6.75 billion for the third quarter of 2014, up 2.7 percent. That report credits a rise in digital ad revenue, something not recorded in the ad page reports.

“Digital brands play an increasingly important role in the overall B2B media industry and represent an ever-growing share of overall industry revenue,” said ABM and Content Division Managing Director Mike Marchesano. “The BIN report for the third quarter of 2014 reflects the success of the B2B media industry’s digital solutions as well as the continued strength and value of online advertising.”

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