If you're looking for a silver lining regarding the state of the North American newsstand, the declines in 2016 weren't quite as dramatic as those felt in 2015, so there's that.
Still, 12.4 percent fewer magazines were sold on newsstands across the U.S. and Canada in 2016 compared to 2015, according to the latest figures released today by MagNet, corresponding to a 6.9 percent decline in industry-wide newsstand revenue.
Compared to the 15.8 percent year-over-year drop in units sold and 13 percent revenue dip from 2014 to 2015, the 2016 numbers indicate that the downswing continues a gradual leveling-off — especially in revenues, whose declines have been partially abated by rising cover prices — but the pace of the downturn remains alarming; since 2011, unit sales have plummeted 52.4 percent, and revenues have fallen 43.2 percent.
Overall, 373.2 million magazines were sold at retail in 2016, corresponding to $2.1 billion in revenue.
The celebrity and women's categories, which together make up 37.4 percent of the market, continue to be hit the hardest, down 15.5 and 15.9 percent in units sold, respectively. General interest remains an area of growth despite the overall downturn; 13.1 million general interest magazines were sold at retail, a 16.6 percent increase over 2015.
But even as declines appear to be leveling-off and certain categories show growth, MagNet notes that a primary driver of high-performing categories is the rise of SIPs and bookazines, which, as has been reported on this site, probably isn't a good thing for the long-term health of the industry.
"Reports from the field confirm the seriousness of the situation," wrote circulation consultant Baird Davis in January. "Retailers are jumping on board by eliminating regularly published titles from racks, and replacing them with SIPs. The effect is particularly acute for weeklies, but it’s now having an apparent effect on monthly publications, as well. Monthlies are being pushed down the rack in favor of SIPs that are now often commanding top rack positions."
MagNet data does not discriminate between frequency publications and SIPs, but as Davis reported, absent non-audited SIPs, newsstand declines are actually accelerating.
Case-in-point: Topix Media Lab, which almost exclusively publishes SIPs, saw both unit sales and revenue soar in 2016, up 61.4 percent and 61.5 percent, respectively, far outpacing a 41.6 percent increase in draw — the number of units shipped to retailers, regardless of how many were actually sold.
Expect the SIP movement to continue in 2017. Bauer Media, which sold more magazines at retail than any other publisher in 2016, recently revealed plans to roll out 12 new SIPs this year tied to Closer Weekly alone, each enjoying a run of 200,000 copies and carrying a higher cover price of $9.95. And Drew Wintemberg, president of retail at Time Inc., which sold the second-most magazines at retail last year, recently told Folio: that a major focus of his company's newsstand strategy involves conceiving more "tentpole" issues around major events or trending cultural topics, like a TIME special issue devoted to Alexander Hamilton.
Both Bauer and Time Inc.'s unit sales trended mostly in sync with the industry-at-large, down 12.7 and 11.7 percent year-over-year, respectively.
Though operating on a smaller scale, Hoffman Media, which publishes titles like Southern Home and Cooking with Paula Deen, continues to be a rising star on the newsstand. One of just three top-15 publishers to increase draw in 2016 (along with Topix and Kappa Publishing, which specializes in crossword puzzles and coloring books), Hoffman saw a 34.3 percent increase in units sold and a 64.1 percent jump in newsstand revenue, according to the data.