David Carr stops short of saying that the American magazine business is headed for a dead cat bounce, but the recent numbers on newsstand sales are grim:
Like newspapers, magazines have been in a steady slide, but now, like newspapers, they seem to have reached the edge of the cliff. Last week, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that newsstand circulation in the first half of the year was down almost 10 percent. When 10 percent of your retail buyers depart over the course of a year, something fundamental is at work.
I talked to an executive at one of the big Manhattan publishers about the recent collapse at the newsstand and he said, “When the airplane suddenly drops 10,000 feet and it doesn’t crash, you still end up with your heart in your stomach. Those are very, very bad numbers.”
Historically, certain categories of magazine will encounter turbulence, but this time all categories were punished in the pileup. People was down 18.6 percent, and The New Yorker had a similar drop, declining by 17.4 percent. Vogue and Cosmopolitan were down in the midteens, and Time fell 31 percent. When Cat Fancy is down 23 percent at the newsstand, it seems that there’s little place to hide. Newsweek, it should be mentioned, was off only 9.7 percent at the newsstand, but that’s cold comfort.
It’s not just consumers who are playing hard to get: advertising is down 8.8 percent year to date over the same miserable period a year ago, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. With readership in such steep decline and advertising refusing to come back, magazines are in a downward spiral that not even their new digital initiatives can halt.
Carr closes with an anecdote about his recent recent doctor’s office visit, where a pile of magazines went unread, because all the patients were staring at their cell phones.
There will be something like magazines in the post-normal economy, once the internet has gobbled all media into its enormous maw and excretes it out as mobile. But the transformation will be so large scale that it’s hard to imagine the brands like Vogue, GQ, Newsweek or Cosmo with retain much value, if any.