June 1, 2015 Last Updated 9:45 am

Falling print magazine newsstand sales will put more pressure on circ managers to boost print subscriptions sales

Another quarter of declining newsstand sales declines is not being offset by growing digital edition sales, leading many publishers to further promote and discount print subs

One trend we have seen over the past year or so is that many print magazines have seen their print subscription sales rise, even as both single copy sales for print, and digital editions sales have fallen. If you have never been a publisher or circulation director, this would seem like incredibly good news. Yippee, we are increasing subscription sales.

BN-magrack-2But publishing executives know just how fungible subscription sales can be. Another promotional mailer, another discount introduced, and voila, more subscription sales. (Circulation managers would justifiably say that it is not that easy.)

So, while newsstand sales have continued to fall, most magazines have been able to maintain their rate bases, even with Apple making life hard by failing to maintain its own Newsstand.

The latest data from MagNet show the first quarter of 2015 was another down quarter for newsstand sales of print magazines, with unit sales declining 14.2 percent and dollar sales dropping 8.3 percent (I always caution taking revenue reports too seriously, especially those involving ad pages).

The decline is actually somewhat better than the report at the end of 2014, but we are seeing compound losses the same was we did ad pages during the fiscal crisis years. This will put pressure on a number of titles to continue to increase print subscriptions promotions and to continue discounting.

“MagNet, like other interested industry participants, has continually recommended that the industry find a way to work together, with major publishers, distributors and wholesalers developing a strategic plan to engage retailers to again focus on our categor,” the company said. “But currently, we see no signs that indicate this is happening.”

Instead, MagNet is seeing draws being reduced, leading to the inevitable decline in sales. But circulation managers would argue that simply maintaining draws will not guarantee sales, and so cutting draws is a way to reduce costs when sales are not to be had.


The solution, it would seem obvious, involves digital. But only a handful of major publishers are eagerly promoting digital editions, instead concentrating on their brands on the web. That is smart – thinking about the web – but they should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, thinking web while still trying to grow their digital edition sales.

The problem is that few major publishers look willing to spend promotional dollars on their digital editions. Start-ups are no better. In recent conversations with publishers of new magazine launches the impression is that marketing is the furthest thing from their minds, editorial and production taking centerstage. Marketing can be expensive and the results iffy, it is argued, so all funds are geared towards paying for content and the digital publishing platform.

The other solution, one frequently being employed, is brand extensions. These can take the form of events, consulting, data, branded consumer products (often through partnerships), and the like. These are all good ideas. But for circulation managers, who have a job to do maintaining readership levels, they do little to solve their basic problem.

  • BoSacks 3 years ago

    Your comments about subscriptions rising is also subject to some interpretation. What is the value of “sponsored” subscriptions? Not much. What is the value of discounted to near free subscriptions? In the long term not much. After the physical newsstand implodes the next shoe to fall will be subscriptions. With a newsstand presence there is limited analog “marketing”. Out of sight out of mind as the saying goes. Where I agree with you completely is that digital is the future of the magazine business. We aren’t there yet and my not be for some time to come, but when the digital dust clears, magazine media will be mostly in the clouds. Print is only for those who can afford it.