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Commentary & Analysis

Have We Run Out of Readers?

By Frank J.

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: April 13, 2005

By Frank J. Romano Annual combined paid circulation-per-issue has not changed in 15 years. April 13, 2005 -- Have we have run out of readers in this country? The National Endowment for the Arts found that book reading has decreased 10 percent since 1982. Only 47 percent of us read any form of literature in the last 12 months. Sixty percent of new magazines expire in the first and only 20 percent of start-ups survive for four years year, according to research by University of Mississippi journalism professor Samir Husni. A magazine usually focuses on one subject and finds its subscribers and advertisers there. But magazine circulation is not growing, even though start-ups are at an all-time high. In the magazine world, annual combined paid circulation-per-issue has not changed in 15 years. This is a metric that really equates to readership. As measured by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, U.S. magazines grew from 245 million copies sold in 1970 to 366 million in 1990. In 1991, the number dropped to 365 million. 1992 saw 362 million and 2000 saw 379 million. The 2003 number was 353 million. No matter how many new magazines start up, the total number of issues sold has not changed in 15 years. Where have all the magazine readers gone? Only 47 percent of us read any form of literature in the last 12 months. Maybe it is the methods we use sell magazines. Magazine publishers grouse that newsstand shelf space is hard to come by; and with the demise of the "you may be a winner" magazine promotions, we may not be reaching potential readers. But there is a new channel that is growing and supermarkets may have an incentive to expand their magazine sales space. Magazines represent a much higher profit margin for retailers than conventional groceries and packaged goods. According to a report by the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), magazines deliver a higher gross profit margin to supermarket vendors compared with overall product performance. The study found that magazines yield a gross profit margin level of 33.6 percent versus a supermarket industry average of 27.6 percent. The study was conducted by Boston-based Kreisky Media Consultancy. The MPA says that this information will likely be used by publishers when negotiating with major supermarket chains. The MPA is lobbying supermarkets to increase the amount of product they stock, thus opening up single-copy sale outlets for more publishers. Magazine "inventory" turns over 17.4 times-per-year on average, whereas typical supermarket inventory turns 8.5 times-per-year, which further lowers the costs involved with stocking magazines. Magazine buyers spend more in supermarkets. When magazines were included in a shopper's "market basket," the total purchase amount was $67, compared with $39 when a shopper didn't buy a magazine. There are readers out there. We just have to find them and show them the wonderful array of magazines they can choose from--18,000 titles or so. The eyeballs are out there--we must track them down no matter where they are, from the supermarket to the Internet, and beyond.



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