The situation on the North American newsstand continues to deteriorate, according to the latest data from MagNet, which reports that just 92.7 million magazines were sold at retail in Q3 2016 — a 13.9 percent tumble compared to the same period last year.
In keeping with recent trends, the high-volume celebrity and women's categories — which together account for 39 percent of overall market share — continue to plummet, down 19 percent and 18.3 percent in units sold, respectively.
Resisting the otherwise ubiquitous erosion, general interest magazines have become a consistent bright spot in MagNet's quarterly reports. The category jumped 8.2 percent year-over-year in terms of units sold, although that figure represents a bit of a cooling-off from the 23.6 percent gain observed in the first half of 2016.
Across nearly every category, publishers continue to hike cover prices in order to mitigate the bottom-line impact of waning sales. Average cover price climbed to $5.76 in Q3 — a 9.1 percent year-over-year hike — yielding a still-dramatic but comparatively less-dire 8.8 percent drop in dollar sales. Some of that hike may also be attributed to the comparative success of higher-priced "bookazines" or SIPs — more collectible, enduring print products, often priced at $10 or more, which likely represent the way forward for many newsstand-dependent publishers.
Particularly alarming is the continued downward spiral of sell-through efficiency — that is, the portion of magazines distributed to retailers that actually end up being purchased by consumers. The industry-wide sell-through rate fell to 25.1 percent, down from 26.6 percent a year ago and 30.8 percent in Q3 2013.
The women's category saw the highest sell-through rate (33.9 percent), perhaps thanks to a steep pullback from publishers in the number of units distributed to retailers (-18.7 percent). The entertainment segment continues to experience the lowest sell-through rates, coming in at just 18.1 percent in Q3.
Despite selling significantly fewer units in Q3, Time Inc. and Condé Nast both saw dollar sales increase, up 3.0 and 1.6 percent year-over-year, respectively. Other major publishers didn't fare as well, with Bauer (-15.3 percent), Hearst (-15.3), and Wenner Media (-16.5), all down double-digits in dollar sales. American Media Inc. and Meredith Corp. saw slightly less dramatic dollar-sales declines, down 9.3 and 8.3 percent, respectively, while Rodale's dollar sales were flat compared to the same period last year.
All of the aforementioned companies saw double-digit drop-offs in terms of units sold, with Wenner down a whopping 21.8 percent year-over-year.
When breaking down the data in terms of retail outlets, bookstores and club stores continue to outperform industry averages — down just 3.2 and 7.6 percent year-over-year in units sold, respectively — but those classes make up only 14.2 percent of all newsstand sales. Supermarkets, with a market share of 35.4 percent, saw the number of units sold fall 13.9 percent compared to Q3 2015, mirroring the industry-at-large.
Convenience stores and traditional newsstands were hit the hardest, down 29.0 and 20.4 percent in units sold, respectively. As a category, convenience stores have been by far the most aggressive in eschewing magazines to give shelf space to other products, receiving 23 percent fewer units from distributors than in the same period last year.
GfK MRI reports increase in print readership
Even as producers and purveyors of print magazines may struggle to make ends meet, especially at retail, their readers don't appear to be going anywhere.
That's the upshot of GfK MRI's latest magazine audience figures, which suggest that total print readership for 167 of the top consumer-facing magazines in the U.S. rose to 244.5 million adults in Fall 2016, a 1.7 percent increase over last year.
The average magazine reader, who has a 51.7 percent chance of being female, is slightly older than he or she was last year (median age: 47), and has a higher household income ($65,516, a 4.9 percent increase over 2015).
Here's a look at how the largest publishers fared in terms of overall portfolio performance:
Time Inc.: 181.5 million (+ 2.1 percent)
Hearst: 151.7 million (+ 4.4 percent)
Meredith: 110.4 million (– 3.5 percent)
Condé Nast: 79.5 million (+ 4.2 percent)
Rodale: 34.6 million (+ 5.6 percent)
Bonnier: 34.2 million (+ 10 percent)
Wenner Media: 25.98 million (– 0.03 percent)
Bauer: 16.84 million (+ 2.3 percent)
A few other notes of interest from the data:
Reminisce, a monthly magazine dedicated to (you guessed it) nostalgia, beat out Consumer Reports, Birds & Blooms, Guideposts, and AARP The Magazine for oldest average audience. Its readers have a median age of 68 years and 11 months.
On the coveted other end of the spectrum, Teen Vogue has the youngest audience, with a median age of 24 years and one month, putting it ahead of Seventeen (28 years, 2 months), Game Informer (29 years, one month), and Bridal Guide (35 years)