Magazines see some hope (but not much) from digital editions in 2012

A newsstand. (Tom Simpson via flickr)
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The latest magazine circulation report tells a familiar story: Newsstand sales continue to slide, while digital editions continue to pick up steam, even if they only generate a sliver of the industry's revenue.

Total newsstand sales, which are considered a key gauge of magazines' overall health, are dropping at a rate near 10 percent year-over-year now, whereas back in 2010 they'd been dropping at a rate of just under six percent, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Figures released by the bureau this morning show that between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year, newsstand sales at 395 consumer titles that report to  A.B.C. were down 9.6 percent from the same period last year.

Overall circulation though, which includes both newsstand sales and subscriptions, is decreasing at a slower clip. In the most recent measured six-month period, it fell .1 percent from the same period a year earlier.

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And digital replicas such as tablet editions more than doubled from the first half of 2011, from roughly 2 million to 5.4 million. At the same time, they accounted for a mere 1.7 percent of total circulation, suggesting consumer reading habits have yet to effect the type of seismic shift that could really mitigate the industry-wide slump in single-copy sales.

But at some individual publications, the digital totals are presumably stoking a sense of cautious optimism.

The New Yorker, for instance, logged 44,439 digital replica editions in the first half of 2012, despite its newsstand total plummeting 17.4 percent from 31,539 in June of 2011 to 26,061 this June. (This is the first industry-wide A.B.C. report to break out digital replicas, which means there are no year-over-year digital comparisons for specific titles. A digital replica is an electronic copy of a magazine that contains all of the same editorial and advertising content as the print edition.) Total New Yorker circulation increased .8 percent to around 1.05 million.

In the newsweekly category, Newsweek fell 9.7 percent on the newsstand to 42,065 and .2 percent overall to roughly 1.53 million. Digital replica editions for the Tina Brown-helmed title totaled 29,348. Time's newsstand tally, meanwhile, slid a whopping 31 percent to 57,791, while its overall circulation was down 2.9 percent. (Time did not file a digital replica total for auditing, said a spokeswoman for A.B.C., noting that if a magazine bundles print and digital subscriptions, as Time does, it can only report one or the other.)

Bloomberg Businessweek's total circulation rose 7.7 percent with 37,621 digital replicas logged between January and June. Newsstand sales fell 14.9 percent to 12,141.

Locally, New York magazine saw a 10-percent newsstand decline to 13,112 and a .1 percent overall decline to 405,149, while finishing the first six months of 2012 with 2,459 digital replicas.

And the circulation of the city's surviving alternative newsweekly, The Village Voice, which is free in New York, was down 17 percent from 179,408 to 148,902. The paper has shrunk in recent years in circulation, pages and headcount.

UPDATE: A Time spokesperson points out that within the first half of 2011, the magazine released two special issues, one on the royal wedding and one on the death of Osama bin Laden, that sold unusually well, possibly accounting for the steep newsstand decline during the first half of this year. A New York spokesperson points out that the magazine raised its cover price by 20 percent to $5.99 in December.