A Graphic History of Magazine Income Over the Last Decade

It’s an incredible business model to have two entwined yet separate revenue streams. First, you charge people to receive or buy your magazine-and you also sell some of the space inside your magazine to companies that would like to reach your paying readers. It’s a brilliant invention! It’s also a business that is strongly dependent on the companies that advertise-so when many sectors of business simultaneously fall off a cliff, they can take a magazine down with them. When times get tough, it comes down to a battle of who has the most guaranteed readers. No matter how bad the economy, you can still get the advertisers if you’re still getting the eyeballs that you promised you would. Previously we looked at the readership of newspapers, which formed a shocking picture. Now we’ve gone into the data on magazine advertiser revenue, expressed in ad pages, as well as revenue from readers, in terms of the total annual income from subscribers and newsstand sales.


For advertiser revenue, we obtained numbers from 2000 to 2008; for ad pages, we sampled the first quarter of each year from 2002 to 2009. (This omits the big bump that many magazines get in the third quarter, but allows for an average.)

Over the last ten years, we saw some actual growth! In particular, we saw small but usually steady growth in circulation revenue at the mid-size magazines on the list of the top 100 largest magazines, such as the New Yorker and Rolling Stone.

And then we saw some larger trends for the last two years, creating a sort of graph that the experts call “falling off a cliff.”

We also saw a great swelling of ad page revenue in the mid-00s. But almost without exception, the magazines we sampled ended up at a level of ad pages well below those of the early 00s. (And a note on magazine sampling: pretty simple, really. We chose magazines that we were interested in.)

We’ll update this graph when the 2009 numbers for advertiser revenue and the first quarter of 2010’s advertising revenue arrive.