Second-Half 2005 Newsstand Results: A Few Winners, Many Losers
[Originally appearing in the February 22 edition of Circulation Management’s Circulator e-newsletter]
By Baird Davis
The estimated sales of ABC and BPA audited publications made a slight decline in the second half of 2005. Unit sales were down .9 percent to 479 million and retail revenue of $1.64 billion was off .7 percent.
The industry’s relatively stable sales, however, mask the growing sales disparity between celebrity and non-celebrity oriented titles. For the second straight semi-annual reporting period, the seven celebrity titles People, US, In Touch, Star, Life & Style and their tabloid cousins, National Enquirer and Globe, shaped the industry’s sales behavior. Although the sales of the two tabloids were themselves cannibalized by their regular magazine format category competitors, the combined sales in this category had an enormous newsstand market impact.
In total, the sales revenue of these seven weekly celebrity titles was $489 million, up 12 percent from the year previous. Their total sales now represent a mind boggling 30 percent of the newsstand revenue of all audited publications. Three years ago, celebrity titles (albeit a lesser number) accounted for less than 20 percent of the market revenue.In the current newsstand market, sales increases for some titles portend sales declines of equal proportion for the others. Second-half sales exemplify this phenomenon. The mammoth sales increases in the celebrity category were fully offset by the 5.3 percent sales decline of all other audited publications. This, of course, was bad news for most publications. If you’re a publisher of a mature title and your sales declined less than 5 percent, consider yourself lucky.
Among the top 25 checkout titles in sales revenue there were seven whose retail revenue declined 10 percent or more. They include the beleaguered and newly transformed TV Guide (-33 percent), Soap Opera Digest (-30 percent), the aforementioned National Enquirer (-18 percent), Time (-16 percent), Family Circle (-15 percent), Woman’s Day (-12 percent) and Good Housekeeping (-11 percent). The 18 other top 25 checkout titles, none in the celebrity category, experienced a combined revenue decline of 5.9 percent. The celebrity titles have obviously made it very difficult for all other titles sold on checkout racks to gain sales traction.However, in the second half of 2005 there were several top 25 checkout titles that emerged from under the celebrity umbrella with their sales momentum in tact. The venerable newsstand champion Cosmopolitan (+5 percent), Glamour (+7 percent), Vogue (+2 percent), Marie Claire (+1 percent) and especially Vanity Fair (+32 percent) all exhibited sales revenue increases.
The magazine picture in the ultra competitive checkout lanes is becoming increasingly clear: celebrity and a select group of woman’s lifestyle publications are in favor, while the woman’s service titles are steadily falling behind.The sales of male oriented titles, which are sold primarily on mainline racks, did not dodge the carnage spewed by the celebrity tsunami. Among the top 10 male titles in sales revenue, only two survived unscathed Men’s Health, sales revenue up 10 percent and Official Xbox Magazine, up 11 percent. The sales of the eight others — Maxim, Playboy, FHM, Penthouse, Stuff, Sports Illustrated, Official Playstation Magazine and Rolling Stone — were clobbered, off a combined 15 percent.
Also in the male group, the sales flu epidemic struck the suddenly stumbling, unvaccinated automobile category. Primedia’s extensive cadre of specialty automobile magazines is a case in point: the combined sales revenue of these 23 titles was down 17 percent. However, a few male oriented titles avoided the sales train wreck.For example the sales of Money, Smart Money, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Harvard Business Review and The Economist in the business/finance category were up a total 17 percent. But most male oriented titles, like their woman’s service category colleagues, were stung like the jilted lovers described by the celebrity press.
The dynamic newsstand sales rise of hit-driven celebrity titles helps expose the punishing nature of the newsstand environment. It lavishly rewards its stars, but it has become increasingly intolerant of titles that are category laggards. This has exacerbated the growing divide between winners and losers. Therein lies, perhaps, the biggest problem on the newsstand: too many titles chasing too little retail display space.