State of the News Media 2015
News Magazines: Fact Sheet
Last updated May 2015
Sales of newsstand copies – both print and digital – for 15 news magazines tracked by Pew Research Center (five that we have tracked for the past seven years and 10 that we added this year) were down just slightly in 2014 – 1% on average. That is much smaller than the decline felt in the magazine industry overall, 14%, though there were large differences across the outlets. The group also grew their sales of digital issues.
News magazines also sparked some major headlines in 2014. The century-old New Republic magazine fired two top editors, and more than a dozen staff members departed in protest over its editorial direction and digital strategy. In November 2014, Rolling Stone published “A Rape on Campus,” a story about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, which was found to involve a number of inconsistencies. Poynter Institute called it the “Error of the Year.”
Single Copy Sales
While newsstand sales are a small percentage of most magazines’ print circulation (roughly 7% of the total), they are 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.
While the overall decline was minimal, some news magazines suffered much greater losses. The Week was the hardest hit, losing 24% of its newsstand sales, after a 7% decline in 2013. The New Republic also saw a significant decline in 2014, down 20% from the year before. New York Magazine, on the other hand, posted significant gains – up 110% – followed by The Atlantic and Rolling Stone, which increased their sales by 22% and 21% respectively.
Subscriptions (both print and digital) make up the majority of the news magazines’ circulation and are normally kept at least stable through discounts or special offers. That was indeed the case overall in 2014, though The Nation saw a dramatic decline of 18%, bringing its subscription sales to about 118,000 copies. Wired enjoyed the biggest increase, with a 7% growth.
When it comes to overall circulation – the combination of single copy sales and subscriptions – the 15 news magazines saw a relatively small decline of 1%. The Nation’s subscription decline left it down 18% overall, while Wired was the big winner. The strong subscription gains helped overcome the single copy sales losses and increase its overall circulation by 6% in 2014, the highest in the group.
The vast majority of single copy and subscription sale numbers at these news magazines still come from print, but some magazines seem to do better than others in selling digital copies of their publications.1
Rolling Stone and New York Magazine generate the greatest portion of their newsstand sales digitally: About 24,000 copies, or 30% of Rolling Stone’s newsstand sales, are in a digital format and New York Magazine grew its single copy digital sales by almost four times in 2014, to seven-in-ten of its single copy sales. When it comes to digital subscriptions, The New Yorker has the most digital subscribers in the group at about 80,000, followed by Wired at about 75,000 each. Nevertheless, New York Magazine and Rolling Stone are both participating in a new program created by Next Issue Media, which allows consumers to pay a monthly fee and have access to a group of magazines. This at least partly explains the strong gains in their digital numbers.
In the digital realm, about half of the news magazines studied here received significantly more visits via a mobile device than a desktop (at least 10% more traffic via mobile than desktop), according to data provided by the analytics firm comScore for the month of January 2015.
The broader consumer magazine industry experienced another difficult year in 2014. Overall magazine circulation (including single-copy sales and subscriptions) fell for the seventh year in a row (-2%). Things were particularly bad for newsstand sales, which fell 14%, the biggest decline since 2008, when Pew Research started tracking. The 1% decline seen in subscription numbers looked good by comparison.
Advertising spending at consumer magazines also experienced losses in 2014, according to Kantar Media. Magazine publishers suffered a 5% loss in advertising revenue, compared with 2013, after a 3% increase the year before.
- These data refer to paid and verified digital issues. The Economist and The Nation both also report digital non-replica subscriptions and single copy sales: 92,720 for The Economist in 2014 and 4,872 for The Nation. These figures are not verified by AAM and are not included in the Total Verified Circulation number, but are listed separately in the AAM statements. ↩