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Magazines: By the Numbers

By Katerina-Eva Matsa, freelance journalist Jane Sasseen and Amy Mitchell of PEJ

“By the Numbers” houses a comprehensive set of charts and tables telling the story of each media sector. For a narrative summary, visit the corresponding essay.


Audience

Consumers continued to cut back on print magazines in 2011, although the decline eased slightly from previous years.  Overall print magazine circulation was down 1% in the last audited period (final six months of 2011), according to PEJ’s analysis of data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

On the other hand, there are some data emerging that the demand for magazines on tablets and smartphones may provide a boon to the industry.

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For now, however, the bulk of the magazine industry is still print, and here the numbers were more than challenging. Paid subscriptions, which are controllable and make up roughly 92% of magazines sold, were flat in 2011.

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Newsstand sales were down far more. Single copies, falling for the fourth consecutive year, dropped almost 9% compared to the same period last year.

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The top 25 magazines did not fare much better than the industry overall. Nearly two-thirds saw circulation declines in the second half of 2011. The 12th ranked Ladies’ Home Journal declined most. It fell 15.8%, a loss of more than 600,000 copies, in the second half of 2011.

The magazine on this list with the greatest gain in 2011 was the same as in 2010: Game Informer Magazine, which features articles about video games and associated consoles.  Its circulation rose more than 48% to 7.5 million copies.  Overall, though, the 25 magazines with the largest circulation were nearly the same as in 2010.

Economics

The economic picture, which had brightened somewhat in 2010, grew gloomier again in 2011. Ad pages, for the 213 magazines tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau, fell 3.1% from 169,552 in 2010 to 164,225 in 2011, according to data by the Publishers Information Bureau.  Of these 213 magazines, 136 reported declines in the number of ad pages sold. Bassmaster, a magazine devoted to bass fishing issues, had the sharpest decrease in ad pages (45%). Older readers were clearly a popular target for advertisers. Among the biggest ad-page gainers in 2011 were AARP The Magazine (29.5%) and Reader’s Digest Large Edition (60.7%).

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Ad pages fell in most major ad categories. The steepest decline, 17%, came in food & food products makers. Automotive ads, one of the largest single categories, fell 5.7%, after having risen 16.9% in 2010.

Three categories saw gains in 2011. The financial, insurance and real estate sector posted the strongest increase, at 12.7%. The toiletries and cosmetics category had smaller gains, as did the apparel and accessories sector.

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According to Kantar Media, the top ten magazine advertisers spent $2.7 billion between January and September 2011, a decrease of 2.8%. These ten accounted for 17.1% of total magazine ad spending.

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Magazine company revenue data are reported a year behind. The most recent data available, 2010, reveal improved performance at the Hearst (publisher of Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan) and Advance (corporate owner of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair) publishing companies.

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After four years of declines, three out of the four biggest publishing companies in particular showed signs of recovery in 2010, though revenues have not recuperated to the levels prior to 2008. In 2010, however, only Meredith, owner of Better Homes and Gardens, has experienced continued revenue losses, of 5.7%.

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Ownership

In the consumer magazines sector, 32 acquisitions were announced, according to the Jordan, Edmiston Group. That compares to 26 in 2010. The total value of these acquisitions was $3.2 billion, compared with $214 million the prior year.

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News Magazines

Audience

The impact of the shakeout that took place in 2010 among the newsweeklies continued to be felt. U.S. News no longer publishes a print edition. Time and Newsweek survive in the traditional news magazine category, although Time has emerged as the clear winner. Among specialty magazines, The Economist, The Week and The New Yorker all saw modest gain in circulation, while The Atlantic suffered a circulation decrease.

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The flagship publication of the Time Inc. magazine unit posted a 0.7% increase in circulation, and has stabilized at around 3.3 million copies. Newsweek, which has now merged with The Daily Beast website, appears to have stopped the worst of its four-year slide. After suffering a 31.6% drop in 2010, circulation fell 3.4% for the year, to 1.5 million copies.

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Time saw a significant increase in single copy sales. They rose 6%, following a 20.3% decline in 2010. While newsstand sales are a small percentage of most magazines’ circulation, they are a profitable part of it — publishers typically charge several times more for a newsstand copy than they charge for a subscription copy. Newsstand sales are also considered an important barometer of a magazine’s editorial appeal, since they are not influenced by discount programs and promotions the way subscription circulation is.

Newsweek, after undergoing major changes under the leadership of Tina Brown, saw newsstand sales increase, by 2%.

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After scaling back in a fairly controlled way, Time’s subscriptions remained steady for the last four years despite the economic downturn and rise of online.  And 2011 brought a slight gain of 0.6%.

Newsweek, on the other hand, continued to fall, though not as drastically as before. In 2011, subscriptions fell 3.5% compared to 2010; since 2007, it has lost more than 50% of its subscribers.

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Traditional newsmagazines have faced increasing competition from nontraditional niche or elite news magazines. These publications continued to gain ground in 2011. Of the four niche or elite news magazines we track, only The Atlantic suffered a total circulation decrease, with a fall of 2.7%.

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However, their single issue sales suffered declines in 2011. The Atlantic and The Economist were the hardest hit, with drops of 8% and 13% respectively.

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Overall, circulation was stable for the six publications studied here (Time, Newsweek, The Week, The Atlantic, The New Yorker and The Economist). Only two saw circulation fall in 2011 and the declines were relatively small. The Week was the biggest gainer at 2.2%, or 528,000 copies. Time’s circulation now is more than double of rival Newsweek, which fell to 1.5 million copies in 2011.

In the digital realm, Time continues to enjoy the most monthly unique visitors over all, according to data provided by Compete. Newsweek on the other hand in 2011, saw a steep decline in its online numbers. Newsweek used to have an online partnership with MSNBC since 2007, which generated more than 50% of its online traffic. But the partnership ended in February 2011, a few months after the merger of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. At the time of the merger, The Daily Beast’s audience was 2.2 million, while Newsweek drew 3.1 million unique monthly visitors, according to Compete.com. Combined traffic for the two sites, for the five months following the August 2011 websites’ merger, averaged 2.5 million.

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Economics

Like much of the rest of the magazine industry, each of the news magazines studied here saw ad pages fall in 2011. Combined ad pages for the six were down 5.6% in 2011 and are now below where they were in 2009.

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Among the news magazines analyzed here had major declines in ad pages sold in 2011. Newsweek and The Week were the hardest hit in the decline of ad pages sold in 2011, suffering 16.8% and 12.9% declines respectively, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

Time’s ad pages slid 2.5% in 2011, the fifth year in a row they have fallen.  Newsweek’s ad pages fell 16.8%, the steepest decline among the six. While the two have followed a similar trajectory, since 2009 Newsweek’s declines have been significantly sharper.

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The four niche news magazines were unable to keep up the success they recorded in 2010. Following strong growth in ad pages that year, all saw declines in 2011. Most noteworthy was The Week, which suffered a 12.9% drop in ad pages after notching up gains of 16.8% in 2010.

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Demographics

News magazines continue to attract an elite audience. Their readers are older and wealthier than the U.S. population on average, a factor that has remained unchanged for years.

The median annual household income of a news magazine reader in 2011 was $91,846, according to Mediamark. While slightly lower than in 2010, is still much higher than the $59,913 U.S. national average.

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The median age of news magazine readers increased in 2011; at 49.0 years, it was older than for any other year since data became available in 2002. That reversed a trend seen in 2010, when the median age fell slightly, to 48. In addition, news magazine readers remain older than the rest of the adult population, which has a median age of 45.6.

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The Economist has by far the youngest and wealthiest readership, with a median age of 44.2 and household income of more than $121,000.

Some magazines also saw the financial demographics of their readership rise in 2011. The median household income of readers of The Economist and The New Yorker rose in 2011 compared to the previous year.

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At the same time, the median age of print readers rose at all the news magazines compared with 2010. The Atlantic has the oldest readers (52.6).

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Typically, more men than women read news magazines. The highest percentage of male readership in our news magazine group is at The Economist, 64%.  The one exception, as in past years, is the New Yorker. Women make up 51% of its readership.

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Content

An analysis by PEJ of cover stories for 2011 pinpoints the different emphasis of the newsweeklies. The Economist, a British-based magazine, mainly focused on international news and the economy, particularly in light of the European Union’s economic crisis. Time and Newsweek also allocated a significant number of covers to international affairs this year, since major world events took place such as the death of Osama bin Laden, the Arab upheaval and the British Royal wedding. The New Yorker’s covers are dominated by lifestyle issues.

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Time’s covers are traditionally more about national affairs, but changes in the news shifted that mix in 2011. For the year, 10 covers focused on domestic trends, the lowest for the past two years, while 9 covers related to the economy and 13 to international affairs, the highest jump among the categories examined.

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Newsweek’s mix changed less. It maintained a similar focus as in the past on national affairs (with 10 covers in 2011) and had fewer covers than in the past related to the economy (only 3), compared to 2010 and 2009.

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News Investment

Newsweek’s merger with The Daily Beast makes it difficult to assess the staff size at the magazine as the two elements now have unified personnel. Newsweek did not publish any staff boxes in 2011, the only public expression of newsroom size. Time’s staff saw signs of growth for the first time after 2008, though the totals are still far below those from 20 years ago.

 

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An analysis of Time and Newsweek’s staff listings showed little change in the international bureaus. Time’s offices remained the same for 2011 and in the case of Newsweek, Los Angeles was the only bureau added.

Just as Time’s general editorial staffing has increased for the first time in 2011, its online staff grew too.  The Time.com staff has been gradually increasing in recent years, reaching 35 members in 2011.

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 Click here to read the Magazine Essay