Reader’s Digest Leads Magazine Circulation Declines

U.S. consumer magazine circulation completed two straight years of declines, weighed down by sliding sales of Reader’s Digest and Playboy magazines in the first six months, Audit Bureau of Circulations data show.

Average total circulation for 440 magazines slipped 2.3 percent to 313.8 million from a year earlier, the trade group said in an e-mail today. Industry circulation has declined since 2008’s first half, when it was unchanged.

Magazines rely on circulation figures to set advertising rates and attract new marketers, said Ken Doctor, an analyst with Outsell Inc. in Burlingame, California. Continued declines may damage publishers’ ability to boost profits, he said.

“Magazine publishers are going to be looking more at tablets to grab readers and advertisers,” Doctor said in an interview, referring to devices such as Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad. “Tablets give magazine publishers a chance for a do-over of sorts, by presenting their content in a totally new way.”

Reader’s Digest fell 25 percent to 6.1 million, the largest drop among the top 25 by total circulation, Arlington Heights, Illinois-based ABC said. Rodale Inc.’s Prevention was the second-biggest decliner with 12 percent. Beyond the top 25, Playboy Enterprises Inc.’s namesake monthly lost 34 percent to 1.63 million.

Sales of magazines at newsstands and grocery stores, so-called single-copy sales, dropped 5.6 percent to 32.5 million, ABC said. That was a narrower decline than in the previous two six-month periods, when single-copy sales fell 9.1 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Gossip magazines such as Wenner Media Inc.’s US Weekly rely more heavily on single-copy sales than do news magazines. Those sales are more profitable because consumers pay full price for each issue.

Publishers boosted ad sales in the first six months by 1.2 percent to $9.25 billion, while advertising pages declined 4 percent, according to Publishers Information Bureau data released last month.

Paid subscriptions, which don’t include single-copy sales, dropped 2 percent, ABC said.

Game Informer, the monthly owned by GameStop Corp. (GME), was the biggest gainer among the top 25 by circulation, rising 21 percent to 4.3 million.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Bensinger in New York at gbensinger1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net

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