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News Magazines: By the Numbers

By freelance journalist Jane Sasseen, Katerina-Eva Matsa and Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center

“By the Numbers” houses a comprehensive set of charts and tables telling the story of each media sector. For a narrative summary, visit the corresponding essay.

Amid the broad decline of the magazine industry in recent years, news magazines have been among the hardest hit. That trend continued in 2012 for the six publications analyzed by Pew Research Center, Time and Newsweek, as well as four smaller niche publications – The Economist, The Atlantic, The Week and The New Yorker.  The year 2012 also brought another stark reminder of the sector’s continuing crisis: In December, Newsweek ended its print circulation, leaving Time as the sole mass-market magazine among the traditional news magazines.


Sales of single-issue copies plummeted 16% on average for the news magazines, roughly two times the 8.2% decline in single-issue sales that the magazine industry as a whole suffered.  Time was the hardest hit, plummeting 27%. Newsweek, on the other hand, declined just 5%, the lowest drop among the six news magazines.  While newsstand sales account for just a small portion of total circulation, they are deemed a more objective indicator of a magazine’s editorial appeal than subscription circulation, which is often influenced by discount programs and promotions. Niche publications also saw declines in 2012 in newsstand sales — 17% at The Economist, 18% at The Week and 12% at The New Yorker.  The Atlantic’s 7% drop looked good only by comparison.

1-News Magazine Single Copy Sales Plummeted in 2012


Subscriptions (both print and digital replicas –LINK TO GLOSSARY] make up the majority of the news magazines’ circulation and are normally kept at least stable through discounts or special offers. Nevertheless, in 2012, Time saw a 1% decline — the only one of the six publications to see a drop. Newsweek, on the other hand, stopped the four-year slide, keeping subscriptions flat. Still, since 2007, the magazine has lost more than 50% of its subscribers.  Niche news magazines all reported increased subscriber numbers. The New Yorker and The Economist each had minor gains of 1%. The Atlantic enjoyed the biggest increase with a 6% growth in subscriptions, while The Week saw subscriptions grow by 4%.

2-Most News Magazine Subscriptions Grew in 2012


Single-copy sales and subscriptions come together for total circulation. Time, after stable circulation the last two years, posted a 1.7% drop in 2012, the highest in the group. Newsweek appeared to have stopped its five-year slide, keeping its circulation at 1.5 million copies.

The Atlantic and The Week were the big winners. The Atlantic enjoyed the largest percentage gain among the six news magazines in 2012, a 4.7% increase, or 485,000 copies – though it remains the smallest of the group in total numbers.

The past 10 years’ total circulation for the six news magazines, however, has dropped sharply, particularly due to Newsweek’s losses. From 9.3 million in 2003, overall circulation in 2012 was 7.7 million. As a group, overall circulation was flat in 2012 (down 0.09%), compared to 2011.

3-Niche Magazines Continue to Increase Their Circulation


Digital Audience

In the digital realm, Time maintains the largest website audience by far, according to Nielsen Netview, but failed to increase it in 2012. The smaller domains of The New Yorker and The Atlantic, on the other hand, saw sharp growth. The New Yorker grew 80% and The Week picked up 71%, while The Atlantic rose by about 50%. The Economist, which makes only limited content available to nonsubscribers on its website, showed minimal gains.

Newsweek (which suffered steep website declines in 2011) no longer has an individual website but is under the umbrella of The Daily Beast. That site drew 4.8 million U.S. unique monthly visitors in 2012, an increase of 47% over 2011.

4-Time Still Maintains the Largest Online Traffic in 2012


Ad Pages

Despite the hopes for an improving economy, the advertising climate continued to be gloomy. News magazines over all saw their ad pages fall in 2012, like much of the rest of the magazine industry. Combined ad pages for the six magazines studied here, were down 10.4% in 2012, after losing 5.6% in 2011.

5-Ad Pages Continue to Slide for Major News Magazines


With the exception of Newsweek, the news magazines analyzed here suffered major declines in ad pages in 2012, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

6-Most News Magazines Lose Ad Pages in 2012


This is the sixth year in a row that Time’s ad pages declined, while Newsweek’s ad pages increased for the first time since 2006 (though they still remain below the 2006 level.) The four niche news magazines also saw a difficult advertising climate. Most noteworthy was The Week, which suffered a 24.5% drop in ad pages, following a 12.9% drop in 2011. Also, The Atlantic and The Economist saw a double-digit decrease of 13% and 12% respectively. Only the New Yorker managed to keep its ad pages losses in single digits, with a drop of 6.4%.

7-Ad Pages Decline for News Magazines



News magazines continue to attract an elite audience, which is older and wealthier than the U.S. population on average.

The median annual household income of a news magazine reader in 2012 was $94,363 for the four magazines for which 2012 data are available (Time, The Economist, the New Yorker and The Atlantic), according to MediaMark. This is slightly lower than in 2011 ($95,522), but much higher than the $59,377 U.S. national average.

8-News Magazine Readers’ Annual Household Income Higher Than Adults Over All


The median age of news magazine readers remained steady in 2012 at 49 years, older than the adult U.S. population over all, which has a median age of 45.8.

9-News Magazine Readers Are Older Than the Adult U.S. Population


The Economist continues to have by far the youngest and wealthiest readership, with a median age of 44.3 and household income of more than $119,000.

10-News Weeklies’ Demographics in 2012

The Atlantic’s readers saw their median household income drop in 2012 to about $88,000 from $91,079 in 2011. The same was seen for The Economist and Time, whose readers’ median household income, declined 1% and 2% respectively. Only The New Yorker readers’ household incomes rose, by 2%, in 2012.

11-Most News Magazine Readers’ Annual Household Income Dropped in 2012


At the same time, the median age of news magazine readers stayed somewhat the same in 2012. The Atlantic continued to have the oldest readers (53.3).

12-News Magazine Readers Median Age Stayed About the Same in 2012


More men than women read weekly news magazines, with one exception, The New Yorker. As in the past years, the New Yorker has more female readers, who make up 53% of its readership. In 2012, The Atlantic had the highest percentage of male readership in our news magazine group, at 64%.

13-Most News Magazines Have More Male Readers



An analysis by the Pew Research Center of cover stories for 2012 reveals the stark differences among the newsweeklies’ content. The Economist, a British-based magazine, continued to focus on international news and the economy, particularly such issues as the economic crisis, the unrest in Syria and China’s economy. The 2012 presidential election was the main subject for which Time and Newsweek allocated a significant number of covers. And The New Yorker’s covers—which tend to relate to lifestyle and culture—had 13 covers dedicated to national affairs in 2012.

14-News Weeklies' Covers Varied Significantly in 2012


Time’s covers returned to their traditional focus of national affairs, particularly the presidential election, dedicating twice as many covers to that topic as in 2011 (19 covers in total in 2012). Covers related to the economy, on the other hand, dropped by more than half.

15-Time Covers Focused Primarily on National Affairs in 2012


The balance of Newsweek’s covers shifted sharply from an even mix of national and International affairs in 2011 to nearly three times as many national affairs covers as international in 2012.

16-Newsweek Covers Less International in 2012


The New Yorker’s covers, as many would expect, were dominated by stories related to culture and lifestyle (19 covers), but less so than in 2011 (23 issues). In 2012, the New Yorker turned to the coverage of the presidential election, dedicating about three times more covers on national affairs than in 2011.

17-Number of National Affairs Covers Grew for The New Yorker in 2012


The Magazine Industry Over All in 2012


After four years in decline, the magazine industry over all managed to stabilize. Magazine circulation (which includes the print copies and digital replicas (LINK TO GLOSSARY) was essentially flat, down 0.3% for the last six months of 2012, according to Pew Research Center’s analysis of data from the Alliance for Audited Media. Pew Research analyzed data for the 406 magazines that reported circulation numbers for both periods in 2012 and 2011.

18-Overall Circulation Flat in 2012


Print sales still dominate the industry. Paid subscriptions are up ever so slightly, including digital replicas, but the industry is still dominated by print. Replicas account for just 3% of the total magazine circulation. (See essay for more)

19-Magazines’ Paid Subscriptions Up for 2012


Newsstand sales continued decline for a fifth consecutive year. Single copies dropped about 8% compared to the same period last year, about the same rate as the last two years.

20-Newsstand Circulation Continues to Decline


Among top 25 magazines, 12 saw circulation declines and 3 were flat in the second half of 2012. The ninth-ranked People declined the most, falling 6%, a loss of about 200,000 copies, in the second half of 2012.

National Geographic, a magazine related to geography, popular science, history and culture, enjoyed the biggest increase, up 6% to 4 million copies in the second half of 2012.

21-Top 25 Magazines Circulation



The magazine industry has not managed to recover after the hard years of 2008 and 2009. After a brief period of stabilization in 2010, declines resumed in 2011 and 2012. Ad pages, for the 211 magazines tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau, fell 8.2% from 164,190 in 2011 to 150,699 in 2012.  Of these 211 magazines, 151 reported declines in the number of ad pages sold. For a second consecutive year Reader’s Digest Large Edition was one of the big winners (up 31%), along with a magazine geared towards African Americans, Ebony, which enjoyed a 23% increase in its ad pages. (See African-American chapter for more)

22-Magazine Ad Pages Fail to Recover


The overall decline in ad pages occurred in most of the magazine advertising categories: 10 out of the 12 experienced sharp declines. The hardest hit was automotive ad pages, which slumped almost 22% in 2012. The automotive ad category had seen a brief recovery of 17% in 2010, but then fell 6% in 2011. The only increase occurred in the toiletries and cosmetics ads (almost 4%), while apparel and accessories ads were flat (up 0.1%).

23-Most Magazine Advertising Categories Lose Ground


Magazine company revenue data are reported a year behind. The most recent data available, 2011, reveal improved performance at Time Warner (publisher of Time, Sports Illustrated and Fortune) and stable revenue for the rest of the publishing companies.

24-Revenue Growth for Top Magazine Companies in 2011


The top three maintained the revenue gains of 2010, but they have not returned to the levels prior to 2008.

25-Revenues for the Four Biggest Publishers



In the consumer magazines sector, 43 acquisitions were announced, according to the Jordan, Edmiston Group, compared to 32 in 2011. However, the total value of these acquisitions was only $277 million, compared with $3.2 billion the year before.

26-Total Value of Magazines Acquisitions in 2012


Click here to read the News Magazine Essay