March 6, 2015 Last Updated 8:06 am

Time Inc. weeklies show overall digital circulation growth in latest publisher’s statements

Digital single copy sales rise as Next Issue Media sales replaces readership once sold through the Apple Newsstand

The big issue on the minds of a majority of digital publishers is whether the top magazines are starting to see a decline in digital edition circulation, or at least a plateauing of the numbers. Anecdotal evidence has been pointing to this over the past year, and the refusal of Apple to begin again to maintain the Newsstand has led to the impression that Cupertino has given up on the publishing business as a source of future income.

Several major consumer magazines reported dramatic drops in digital subscriptions with their last publisher’s statements, so the one wonders if this trend would continue with the release of the December 2014 statements.

TimeInc-weeklies-400Not all the statements are in, but many are, so over the next week or TNM will look at the progress (or lack thereof) being made in selling digital circulation.

Time Inc., which just last year was spun off by Time Warner, has a mix of weeklies and monthlies, as well as a substantial portfolio of titles in the U.K. Just this week the last of the big four weekly magazines saw their latest publisher’s statements released. Though the statements show mixed results, overall the numbers are good.

Each of the magazines, TIME, PEOPLE, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly, maintained their rate bases (it would be big news if they didn’t). But print sales remain difficult to maintain. For the group of four magazines, sales (paid subscriptions and single copy) dropped 4.1 percent. But the sales figures varied from magazine to magazine. For instance, PEOPLE was able to report a nice rise in paid subscriptions, though its single copy sales dropped.

The few years have been tough on single copy sales as first Borders closed, then there were distributor problems caused by the closing of SourceInterlink Distribution. For the Time Inc. weeklies, it is PEOPLE that would be most effected by a decline in single copy sales. A decade ago, the title report over 1.5 million in single copy sales, today that figure is down to less than 700K.

It was hoped that digital editions would provide the answer to both distribution and sales issues. But Time Inc. has been slower to build its digital readership, having only 1.69 percent of its paid circulation in digital a year ago.

But the four weeklies managed to raise this to 2.14 percent with its latest publisher’s statement. This is still well below where many publishers would like to see their digital readership, but it does reflect nice growth. Both digital replica and digital single sales rose for Time Inc. In the latest group of statements, single copy sales of digital editions more than double, though they admittedly remains a small percentage of overall circulation (not even 1 percent).

(The latest AAM publisher’s statements now report paid digital subscriptions as “Digital Issue” rather than “Digital Replica”, probably a good thing as the term “replica” has never meant PDF replica but that the digital edition has the same advertising and editorial content as the print edition. Here, digital replica means the same as digital issue.)

For Time Inc., growth is expected through Next Issue Media’s service. Sales through NIM are reported as digital single copy sales, and if sales were to double again during the next year the numbers would start to become more substantial.

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If Time Inc.’s weeklies are showing some decent numbers of digital this time around, how are they doing compared to their competitors? That is hard to say as of today as many statements are still to be released.

But Wenner Media’s US Weekly is showing some interesting and revealing numbers in its last statement. US Weekly saw its digital replica (digital issue) circulation drop nearly 25 percent. But its digital single copy sales rose 582 percent, with these sales attributable to NIM. Digital circulation now represents 4.7 percent of total circulation for the magazine, or 6.3 percent of total sales when verified circulation is not considered.

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