Doctor Doom vs. Captain Optimist: Why AAM Numbers Don’t Tell The Full Newsstand Story
Last month, Baird Davis – or Doctor Doom as he was called in a post by BoSacks – pointed out that the newsstand was dying. Davis used Alliance for Audited Media (formerly Audit Bureau of Circulation) numbers to demonstrate the ongoing drop in titles and overall sales.
Yes, Baird Davis is correct: There is a major drop in circulation for AAM member titles. While I recognize his point that numbers are down severely, the focus on the AAM audited titles (mostly for advertising ratebase) is not a fair comparison. It adds fuel to the fire that print is becoming obsolete.
I’ve run a comparison using AAM (ABC) Fas Fax numbers for the Second Half 2011 versus the 2nd Half 2017. I also compared the Barnes & Noble rank report for the same periods. (Chains like Barnes & Noble and Books A Million have always been ecumenical in carrying print media).
Baird is correct that AAM titles are down dramatically, comparing the 2nd half 2017 to the 2nd half 2011. The number of participating audited titles is down 50.9% from 507 titles to 249 titles.
This may be the result of at least two factors:
- Newsstand is not the primary interest for many members.
- The smaller titles pulled out of AAM because an audit did not help increase or add to advertising sales levels.
Meanwhile, for the 2nd half 2011 Barnes & Noble ranked 5,594 titles sold in the chain. For the 2nd half 2017, they ranked 4,800 titles, a 14.2% reduction in total number of titles sold, down to 794. This is a dramatically different reduction in the number of titles sold on the newsstand.
In 2011 AAM members represented 9.1% of all titles sold in Barnes & Noble.
In 2017 AAM members represented 5.2% of all titles sold in Barnes & Noble.
Newsstand Vs. Subscription Market Share
AAM titles also represent a different circulation focus. For the 2nd half 2011, newsstand sales represented 14.9% of total circulation of 1,958,946,150 copies.
For the 2nd half 2017, newsstand sales represented 7.9% of the remaining 249 titles, sales accounting for a total of circulation of 1,308,718,831 copies.
This indicates to me that AAM is important for selected titles that need an audit to support their advertising sales program, however there are over 4,500 other titles that do not feel an audit will help them grow their business.
This is not to deny newsstand sales are softer when compared to 2011 or even the “heyday” of 2000. However, using numbers that are based on an exclusive paid membership source that did not represent the entire industry is wrong and stokes the fire and fear that newsstand is dying.
Why the possible change in AAM value?
This is a topic I’ve been asking since the 1980s, and a few of the reasons I feel publishers have moved away from the AAM audit is the focus of media buyers. Many of the media buyers are younger frontline people that are looking for newer, hipper sources for their clients. In the 1980s, while Video Review magazine was the #1 video magazine reaching hardware and software enthusiasts, media buyers moved their ad buys from Video Review to other “new” magazines that were not focused on video movies or hardware, but reached a more general, “hipper” audience (as I was told in ad sales meetings I sat in on with the publisher).
When the internet broke out, print became a second-class citizen to the new medium.
My belief is that the use of AAM numbers is doing a disservice to all print magazines, and even though B&N showed a decline in the number of titles sold in the chain from year to year, it still has a robust number of titles for sale in their stores.
The answer, as I frequently point out, is the expansion of retailer growth. Rather than agree to the reduction of mainline space in stores, we should as an industry work to hold onto and expand existing square footage, open new and old accounts and dispel the “Doom and Gloom” reporting based on a report that represents only 5.2% of the title mix of a major retailer.
We have to look at “new” titles for key positions on mainline and checkout fixtures for the future rather than depend on old standby titles. In 2011, of the top five titles in Barnes & Noble, four were weeklies, one was a monthly: People, The Economist, Us Weekly, Time and National Geographic.
In 2017 the top title in the chain was a quarterly, three titles were weekly and one was a bi-monthly; The Magnolia Journal, People, The Economist, The New Yorker and Flow. A mix of frequencies like this for the top five was previously unheard of
Sorry Doctor Doom, Captain Optimist doesn’t agree with your obituary.
John Morthanos is a circulation consultant specializing in niche and
special interest publications. He was Vice President Specialty Sales at
Curtis Circulation Company, Vice President Single Copy Sales at Primedia
Special Interest Publications and Cowles Magazines, Circulation Director
at Viare Publishing, and Circulation Marketing Director at Ziff Davis