‘New York’ magazine and ‘The New Yorker’ buck downward newsstand trend with stronger digital sales

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New York's hometown weeklies are bucking one of the bleaker trends of the magazine industry, which as a whole faced a roughly 10-percent drop in newsstand sales during the first half of 2013, according to a report issued this morning.

And they have readers who bought single digital editions to thank for that.

Year over year, New York magazine was up 22.6 percent on the newsstand (that includes brick-and-mortar newsstands like Hudson News and digital ones like the Apple Store) for the six-month period that ended June 30, while The New Yorker saw a 17.7 percent increase, according to the Alliance for Audited Media's latest semi-annual circulation report.

By contrast, overall newsstand sales (otherwise known as single-copy sales, a key barometer of the magazine industry's health) of the 390 U.S. consumer titles tracked by A.A.M. fell significantly during the first half of 2013. For more contrast, during the second half of 2012, New York's single-copy sales were down 12.7 percent and The New Yorker's 7.5 percent.

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Both magazines have loyal subscriber bases, although they do sometimes produce buzzworthy fronts that break through to the masses. (Recent examples not reflected in the latest circulation data: The New Yorker's gay-marriage-pegged Bert and Ernie cover; New York's Spitzer-Weiner mashup). At the same time, unlike fashion and celebrity titles, their sales are less reliant on cover art. Nor are they as sensitive to massive gyrations in the news cycle as other magazines with a national audience, like, say, Time.

So it's not as though eye-grabbing covers necessarily fueled the newsstand bump. Rather, it appears to be the result of shifting consumer-reading habits.

"The spike is attributable to a spike in digital single-copy sales," a New Yorker spokesperson told Capital.

A spokeswoman for New York, Lauren Starke, likewise cited an increase in digital newsstand sales, particularly those logged through the Next Issue Media publishing consortium, she said. (New York's first fully interactive iPad app, as we reported earlier this year, debuted on April 1.)

Starke also downplayed the importance of newsstand sales to New York's overall reach.

"While we’re of course pleased any time we see an increase in sales, newsstand is a very small percentage of our circulation," she said. (16,070 out of 408,822, to be precise, versus 30,685 out of 1,055,962 for The New Yorker.) "We consider web traffic to be a more relevant measure of consumer demand than newsstand." (Disclosure: I recently did a freelance piece for nymag.com, and I have one more assignment outstanding.)

For now, we'll have to take their word for it: The so called "Snapshot" released by A.A.M. today does not break-out single-copy digital sales. But "those more detailed numbers will be included as the statements for individual titles are released in the coming weeks," said an A.A.M. spokesperson.

Other weeklies were weaker on the newsstand. Bloomberg Businessweek's single-copy sales were down 6.3 percent. Time saw a modest 1.2 percent uptick, although with a total circulation of more than 3.3 million, it ranked eleventh on A.A.M.'s list of the top 25 U.S. consumer magazines. Notably absent this time around: Newsweek, which shuttered its print edition at the beginning of the year and was recently sold in its new digital-only incarnation to the owners of The International Business Times, a seven-year-old website.

Steve Cohn, editor-in-chief of the trade bible Media Industry Newsletter, said that although New York and The New Yorker are exceptions to the rule, their apparent success on the digital newsstand augurs well for other magazines aiming to expand their footprints on tablets and mobile devices.

"I do think it's potentially a good sign," he said.

But the industry has a long way to go. Though digital editions "continue to be a small but growing portion of magazines’ total circulation mix, nearly doubling year-over-year," according to a statement from A.A.M. executive vice president Neal Lulofs, they still represent just 3.3 percent of total circulation.