March 3, 2021

Abundance of News, but Mixed Sales, for News Magazines

But newsstand sales for the top weekly news magazines told two different stories. Time, the country’s best-selling news weekly, posted considerable gains. Newsweek, under the leadership of a prominent new editor, barely moved the needle despite creating provocative covers like one with a digitally altered and age-enhanced rendition of Princess Diana.

At Time, sales at the newsstand rose 16 percent from January through June, to 83,796 on average, a rate of increase far higher than others in the category. Total circulation at Time rose almost 2 percent to just under 3.4 million.

At Newsweek, which has undergone significant changes both cosmetic and cultural under Tina Brown, its new editor who revitalized Vanity Fair and The New Yorker in the 1990s, overall circulation fell 5 percent, to just over 1.5 million. Sales of single issues ticked up nearly 3 percent to an average of 46,561 an issue.

On Tuesday, Newsweek business executives defended their strategy as a work in progress and swiped at the competition.

“If you take a look at the last five or six issues of Newsweek, and you compare them to the last five or six issues of Time magazine, you can see the different directions we’re going in,” said Ray Chelstowski, Newsweek’s publisher, who characterized Time’s news judgment as lacking urgency.

Time’s managing editor, Richard Stengel, said the sales figures showed that Time had become the preference of more readers. “There’s a continuing flight to quality,” he said. “And in difficult economic times, that helps iconic brands like ours.”

By and large, circulation trends at weeklies were flat from January through June as sales across the magazine industry fell more than 9 percent over all. Subscription numbers can be manipulated by publishers cutting prices or deciding to cut back on unwanted circulation. For that reason, newsstand sales are often seen as a good proxy for the overall health of a magazine.

Bloomberg Businessweek, which has also switched ownership and editors recently, held steady at just under 922,000 total copies. Copies sold at newsstands dropped by more than a third, to a weekly average of just 14,260. The New Yorker held steady with an overall circulation of just over 1 million. Single-copy sales rose 1.2 percent.

The Week, a digest of opinion and news that has been making steady inroads into the weekly news magazine market, ended the six-month period with a circulation of just over 525,000, up 2 percent. Newsstand sales account for only a fraction of the magazine’s circulation.

Entertainment Weekly (1.8 million circulation), Sports Illustrated (3.2 million) and People (3.6 million) — all published by Time Inc. — had relatively unchanged circulation. But their newsstand sales all slipped, including 11 percent for People.

Sales of other gossip magazines fell as well. US Weekly’s newsstand sales fell 17 percent to over 646,685. Star’s fell 17 percent to 442,131.

Beyond the weeklies, newsstand sales at many women’s and fashion magazines suffered. Glamour was down almost 18 percent. Cosmopolitan declined nearly 3 percent. The outlier among fashion magazine’s was Vogue, which rose almost 13 percent at the newsstand.

With newsstand sales falling, there was some concern that advertising could be next.

“The big question if you’re an advertiser is, how do you look at this in combination with all that’s happening on Wall Street?” said Steven Cohn, editor of The Media Industry Newsletter. “Are you going to sit on your hands? We certainly saw that two and three years ago.”

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