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The Changing Face of Top 10 Checkout Titles

From 2000 to 2008, a dramatic change in mix, frequency, pricing.

Baird Davis By Baird Davis
03/11/2009 -14:23 PM

Many titles are sold on the newsstand, but it’s the performance of 10 publications—the top 10 checkout titles—that define the market.

Eight years ago, the top 10 titles accounted for nearly half (46.8 percent) of the unit sales of all audited publications. In the second half of 2008 the top 10 titles still accounted for about half (46.3 percent) of unit sales for all audited publications.

The unit sales impact of the top 10 titles has remained stable, yet the makeup, frequency and cover pricing of these publications has dramatically changed.

A comparison of top the 10 titles from the second half of 2000 to the second half of 2008 helps illuminate the effect of these changes. Several distinct developments should be noted:

1. Cover Prices Increased Dramatically
In 2000, eight of the top 10 titles, were priced below $3. In 2008 only one title was priced below $2.99 (Woman’s World). The average price of the top 10 titles surged 67.3 percent from $2.02 to $3.38. This compares to more modest price increase rates of 21.3 percent for other checkout publications and 20.4 percent for all the other audited titles during this period.

2. Publication Frequency Increases
In 2000, seven of the top 10 titles were weekly and three were monthly frequency. Their average annual frequency was 41 issues. In 2008 only one monthly title (the mighty Cosmopolitan) remained in the top 10. During this eight year period the average annual frequency of top 10 titles rose from 41.0 to 47.6 issues—a frequency increase of 16.1 percent.

3. Unit Sales of Top 10 Titles Decline in Equal Proportion to the Market
Between 2000 and 2008, unit sales of the top 10 declined 28.9 percent, approximately the same rate of sales decline experienced by all other audited titles.

4. Revenue for Top 10 Titles Rises, All Others Decline
Unlike unit sales, the revenue of the top 10 and all other titles diverged. The revenue of the top 10 rose 18.8, but the revenue of all other publications declined 12.4 percent.

Lessons Learned from Top 10 Title Sales Trends
There is much to be learned from the changes occurring among the top 10 newsstand titles.

1. Weeklies Are Preferred
At the checkout, weekly frequency publications now clearly dominate. Among other things the shift to weeklies has adverse processing and handling ramifications for wholesalers and retailers.

2. Higher Cover Prices Are the Norm
Although higher cover prices have undoubtedly precipitated the unit sales decline, they have become the new checkout sector norm.

3. Checkout Sector Is Zero-Revenue Based
High cover prices have helped increase revenue for the top 10 publications. Conversely this has translated into lower revenue for all other titles in the checkout sector. This helps confirm the belief that the checkout sector (indeed, probably the entire newsstand market) is zero-revenue based. That is, individual title revenue can rise or fall, but the sector/market revenues will remain unchanged.

4. Higher Cover Prices Mean Fewer Multiple Title Purchases
Higher cover prices for the top 10 titles has meant less multiple title purchases. This has contributed to the unit sales decline.

5. Strong Titles Benefit from Higher Competitive Pricing
Strong titles (number one or number 2 in the category) will benefit from higher pricing by their competitors. People magazine is a good example.

6. Monthly Frequency Titles Have Been Marginalized at Checkout
As the influence of weekly titles has grown, it has adversely affected the sales of monthly publications, especially the more mature women’s titles.

7. Publications with High Newsstand Circ Ratios Ascend
All the top 10 publications have newsstand to subscription circ ratios greater than 40 percent and high subscription pricing—this was not so eight years ago. It now appears as if there is no longer room at the upper echelons of the newsstand market for titles whose circ is top-heavy with deeply discounted subscriptions.

Top 10 Checkout Titles: 2nd Half 2000
1. People
2. TV Guide
3. National Enquirer
4. Star
5. Woman's World
6. Cosmopolitan
7. Globe
8. Soap Opera Digest
9. Woman's Day
10. Family Circle

Top 10 Checkout Titles: 2nd Half 2008
1. People
2. US
3. In Touch
4. Star
5. Woman's World
6. National Enquirer
7. Cosmopolitan
8. OK! Weekly
9. Life & Style
10. Globe

Baird Davis By Baird Davis -- Baird Davis is a senior consultant with Circulation Specialists.

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