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Magazines: By the Numbers

By Katerina-Eva Matsa, Tom Rosenstiel and Paul Moore of the Project for Excellence in Journalism

New to this year’s report is a streamlined data section that houses a comprehensive set of charts and tables telling the story of each media sector. For a narrative summary, visit the corresponding essay.

The Magazine Industry in 2010

In 2010, consumers purchased fewer magazines. Overall magazine circulation was down 1.5% in the latest audited period, according to PEJ’s analysis of data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.1

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Paid subscriptions, which account for approximately 90% of magazine sales, declined for a second consecutive year after slight gains in 2008. They were down 1.1% in the second half of 2010 compared with the same time period in 2009.

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Single copy sales, which have been in decline since 2008 (the first year for which data are available) reduced their rate of decrease. In the second half of 2010 alone, single-copy sales dropped 8.2% compared to same period the previous year.

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Being a top 25 magazine offered little insurance against circulation declines in 2010. Two-thirds of the top 25 magazines had circulation declines through the second half of 2010. Readers Digest, which ranks No. 4, dropped the most, 22.2%, down to 5.5 million copies.

On the flip side, the Game Informer, which focuses on video games news, stood out with a gain of 33.3%, selling more than 5 million copies in the second half of 2010. The only other top 25 magazine to gain more than 2% was Parenting.

Economics

The economic picture for the magazine industry is not exactly bright, but in 2010 it at least stopped the bleeding. After declines of 11.7% in 2008 and 25.6% 2009, the number of ad pages sold remained flat in 2010 (-0.1%), according to data from the Publishers Information Bureau.2 (The number of ad pages sold is the industry’s most accepted revenue measure.)

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The overall stability in ad pages resulted from growth in some types of ads and continued loss in others. Automotive ad pages, which had the steepest declines the previous two years, jumped 16.9% in 2010, following a 40.5% drop in 2009. Increases also occurred in the financial, insurance & real estate ads (9.3%) and toiletries & cosmetics (11.6%).  Travel–related ads from hotels, resorts and public transportation had the steepest loss (-9.5%).

The categories of magazines that grew ad pages most were bridal (16.8%) and food (14.3%), according to Mediaweek’s magazine data center.3

Magazine company revenue data are a year behind. The most recent data available, 2009, reveal a difficult year.

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The four biggest publishing companies in particular suffered a long-term revenue decline that started in 2007 and was further extended in 2009. Meredith, owner of Family Circle, has been the only one able to keep stable with a minor loss of 0.2%.

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Reported data for one company at least, though, suggests 2010 brought some relief. According to Advertising Age, Time Warner’s total ad revenues grew 5% in the first half of 2010, which stems from a $26 million gain in U.S. print advertising and a $21 million (or about 20%) jump in digital advertising.  Digital advertising accounted for 14% of Time Inc.’s first-half ad revenue.4

News Magazines

Among news magazines, there was a parting of ways, if you will, with just one of the traditional three still standing upright. (See essay for more) Specialty magazines, on the other hand, continued to show strength.5

Audience

Time Magazine, in the last two years, has come a long way in stabilizing its circulation, and now appears to be the sole survivor of the traditional three. Time lost just 1.1% in 2010 (and 0.7% in 2009).

Circulation for Newsweek plunged 31.6% for the year, down to just 1.6 million copies. And U.S. News and World Report had all but left the news business.

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Time’s minor loss was mainly driven by a 20.3% decline in single copy sales, when subscriptions have been stable the last three years. (See essay for more) 6

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For the last several years, nontraditional niche news magazines have been the area of growth, enjoying circulation gains – or at least stability—even during the recession years of 2008 and 2009.  Through 2010, circulation among them remained mostly flat, with slight uptick of 2% at The Economist.

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Beyond the steep declines at Newsweek, then, the circulation standings among the news magazines studied here remained mostly level through 2010.

Magazines have been seeking to find alternative ways to distribute their stories to more consumers, particularly in the era of technology and innovation. In 2010, though, only The Atlantic and The Economist had online audience growth – The Atlantic’s a jump of 18.5% and the Economist’s 31.2%.

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But Time, though it had some decline in 2010, still has the most unique visitors overall, according to Nielsen data. (See Nielsen analysis for more)

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Economics

The two traditional news magazines did not enjoy the economic stabilization of the industry overall. Though Time held its circulation steady, its number of ad pages slid 2.9% more in 2010. Newsweek’s ad pages – on par with its tumbling circulation – dropped 19.8% year to year.

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The four niche magazines in this group enjoyed strong growth in ad page sales in 2010 compared to 2009.  Most noteworthy are The Atlantic at 24% and The Week at 16.8%.

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The specialty publications contributed to a slight overall gain for news magazines of 1.4%.

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Demographics

News magazine readers continue to be older and wealthier than the overall U.S. population.

According to Mediamark’s survey, the average annual income of a news magazine reader is $92,117, compared to the average of $59,530 for the nation’s adult population. Both figures increased from 2009.

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The readers of the news magazines continue to be older (48) than the rest of the population (45.4), but they are younger compared to 2009 (48.03).

More men than women read weekly news magazines, with one exception.  The New Yorker attracts slightly more women than men (51% versus 49%).

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Content 2010

The content of the news weeklies did not change substantially from 2009. At Time and Newsweek, the greatest emphasis continued to be on national affairs, though Newsweek for the first time surpassed Time in international coverage. The New Yorker continued its emphasis on entertainment and culture.

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An analysis by PEJ of cover stories for the year clarifies the differing emphasis of the Economist and the New Yorker versus Time and Newsweek.

The Economist, based in Britain, mainly focuses on international news, while the majority of Time’s cover stories were about national affairs. Newsweek had 10 covers devoted to national affairs, the highest among the categories examined.  The New Yorker’s covers, as many would expect, are dominated by lifestyle issues.

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News Investment

Both Time and Newsweek reduced the number of their employees in 2010. Time’s staff fell below longtime rival Newsweek in size for a second consecutive year.

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An analysis of Time’s staff listings showed the shutdown of several international bureaus. In the case of Newsweek, there were little changes during the year, Cape Town being the only bureau eliminated.

Even though traditional staffing has been cut, online staff is growing.  The Time.com staff has been gradually increasing the last years, reaching 29 members in 2010.

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Newsweek also seemed to invest in the digital aspects of the magazine, since it also increased its online staff members to 22 in 2010 from 18 in 2009.

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Opinion Magazines

Readership of opinion magazines in 2010 followed the long-time trend of conservative publications doing well when Democrats are in power and vice versa. Conservative oriented opinion magazines grew in circulation in 2010 while liberal magazines lost it.  As a result, National Review, the conservative stalwart, had a 6.7% increase in circulation, while The Nation, the liberal magazine, fell by 10.5%.  The Weekly Standard, also a conservative publication, grew the most with a 31.2% circulation increase.

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The opinion magazines websites do not look better in 2010 than a year before. The National Review and The Weekly Standard websites grew compared to 2009 but not enough to reach the unique monthly visitors reported in October 2008.

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Endnotes

  1. The last audited period is the last six months of 2010 (ending the 31st December 2010), compared to the same period a year earlier. Data provided by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, FAS-FAX report for consumer magazines, which do not include religious and farm magazines.
  2. Publishers Information Bureau is affiliated to the Magazines publishers Association, which represents approximately 225 domestic magazine media companies. It measures magazine advertising spending and advertising pages by category and title. Those magazines which are members of PIB represent roughly 85% of consumer magazines.
  3. Levith, Will. “Magazine Monitor Masterlist.” MediaWeek Datacenter. Jan. 20, 2010.
  4. Johnson, Bradley. “Revenue Is Seeing Single-Digit Growth This Year Following 2009’s 3.8% Decline. So Just Where’s the Money?” Advertising Age. Feb. 16, 2011.
  5. In last year’s annual report we highlighted the dramatic decline of U.S. News & World Report.  The magazine went to a monthly format in 2009 and in December 2010 it announced that the publication would cease the circulation of the U.S. News monthly print magazine and move to a primarily digital format in January 2011. Therefore, we will not consider U.S. News & World Report in this annual report.  Our study will focus on five weekly magazines: Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker, The Week and The Economist and one monthly: The Atlantic.
  6. Audit Bureau of Circulations, FAS-FAX report for consumer magazines.