Magazines poised to avoid paper-like cuts

Although a 6.3% DROP in newsstand sales of US consumer magazines during the first half of 2008 surely alarmed many in the publishing and communications industries, magazines are not likely to see the massive staff cuts now plaguing the newspaper world.

Although a 6.3% DROP in newsstand sales of US consumer magazines during the first half of 2008 surely alarmed many in the publishing and communications industries, magazines are not likely to see the massive staff cuts now plaguing the newspaper world.

“The newspaper and magazine industries really only share one thing – they both use paper,” says Barry Hollander, associate journalism professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College. “Newspapers are a geographic niche; magazines are a subject niche. The reasons [people buy] papers and magazines are totally different.”

US consumers bought 44.1 million newsstand copies of magazines in the first six months of 2008, a drop from 47.1 million in the same period in 2007, while overall US magazine circulation was 350 million copies, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations statistics as reported by the AP, which also cited statistics from the Publishers Information Bureau showing an 8.2% drop in magazine ad pages during the second quarter.

While newspapers and magazines are both affected by declining ad revenues, the latter industry is also closely tied to a down economy, says John Harrington, partner at consulting firm Harrington Associates.

“I don't say it is purely the economy, I just think that is a major factor,” he adds. “There may be other trends impacting [the magazine industry], but I'm not sure they can be identified yet. I read... retail traffic is down substantially... and fewer visits to the supermarket are fewer opportunities to sell magazines.”

Though it's possible magazines will adjust their budgets due to the economy, a drop in single-copy sales is unlikely to result in layoffs or mass buyout offerings that are common at newspapers because the magazine industry frequently relies on freelance reporters, Hollander adds.

“Many magazines are freelancer- driven... so while there might be an occasional staff cut, or maybe one or two contributing editors might disappear from a masthead, you're not talking about the same sheer number of employees as papers have,” he explains, adding that consumer magazines are also threatened by free content available online. In many ways, the Web is as big a competitor for magazines as for newspapers, Hollander adds.

“With Consumer Reports, I can now find consumer editorial in other places,” he says. “I might think, ‘I can do without Consumer Reports.'”

Of the top 10 magazine newsstand sellers, only People and In Style posted gains during the first half of 2008. Stalwarts such as O, The Oprah Magazine and Cosmopolitan saw significant single-copy sales decreases, according to the AP.

Weekly titles In Touch and Life & Style – both of which added 50 cents to newsstand prices over the first six months of the year, both saw single-copy sales decrease at least 28%. Meanwhile, newsstand sales for Everyday with Rachael Ray increased by 6%, while its total circulation jumped by more than 36%, according to media reports.

However, lifestyle magazines may also see the effects of a slowing economy, Hollander adds.

“[Celebrity and lifestyle titles] are very compelling on the newsstand and are very good at selling scandal... there's a certain loyalty there,” he says. “People may say they need their fix of People. If the economy continues to go south on us, those magazines may also seen an erosion, but it may take a little longer.”

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