U.S. Magazine Circulation Drops 9 Percent at Newsstands

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U.S. consumers showed less willingness to spend money for magazines at newsstands and other retail outlets as single-copy sales fell more than 9 percent in the second half of 2009.

One positive sign: the drop in newsstand sales was not as severe as in the first half of 2009, when publishers saw a year-over-year decline of 12 percent, according to figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Still, the figures are troubling for the magazine industry as the weak economy continues to put a damper on spending and consumers have plenty of free reading options available online.

Newsstand sales are important for publishers because they charge more per copy than they do for subscriptions. Magazines generally give a discount to those willing to subscribe in order to boost the overall circulation they can promise advertisers.

Magazines have been enduring one of the worst advertising slumps in memory. In October, Conde Nast Publications announced it was closing Gourmet, the nation's oldest food magazine, along with three other money-losing titles. The latest circulation drops do not even include such titles because Monday's report is based only on 472 magazines that still publish and that provided comparable figures to industry auditors.

Although the Internet has been taking more of people's time for years, overall magazine circulation had been holding steady for a while.

Overall circulation is starting to creep lower, though. After remaining relatively flat in the first half of 2008, it fell about 1 percent over the next two periods. That drop grew to 2.2 percent in the second half of 2009.

Paid subscriptions, meanwhile, fell by 1.1 percent in the second half.

It is difficult to say how much of the decline is the result of consumers abandoning an old medium for the Web and how much results from the recession hitting people's budgets.

Another factor is that publishers have been cutting back on heavily discounted circulation. As the cost of mailing magazines climbs, publishers figure it isn't worth the cost of printing extra copies.