Thursday, November 19th, 2009

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.

14 Comments / Post A Comment

LondonLee (#922)

I better start looking for another job.

kneetoe (#1,881)

Oh, that kind of "graphic." I'm disappointed.

NinetyNine (#98)

No wonder magazines are failing — their organization tasked with promoting their relevance doesn't know how to design a chart.

NinetyNine (#98)

Oh, sorry, I misread that attribution. For future reference, you should put the value of the two separate y-axes on opposite sides of the chart.

TOTALLY agree. I did that at first but it was ugly. (I mean, MORE ugly.)

Some day we will have a "flash designer" to do these things for us! You know, in the "future."

alkion (#2,585)

Hi! Nice graph) Can you make the logarithmic scale of Y or send the data so that I could do it myself? We can compare relevant changes in log scale. Thanks!

atipofthehat (#797)

Orion is much shorter in person.

iplaudius (#1,066)

If it doesn't fit onto my screen, it cannot fit into my head.

HiredGoons (#603)

It seems like the National publications (Time, New York Times) are failing as the News audiences are splintered and people like Sean Hannity are given more credibility and spew a message easier to digest and appealing to people's preconceived notions.

When gossip and innuendo are passing for News these days, no amount of bailing out is going to save a ship that's too big to float.

Maybe I'm wrong.

jfruh (#713)

Holy shit, what happened to Time Magazine in 2005? Did everyone in the country wake up one day and realize that it sucks? I mean, it does, but usually you don't get an agreement so fast.

LondonLee (#922)

Newsweek deserves to die after that Sarah Palin cover. I mean, I hate the woman but they managed to make me feel sorry for her which I hate even more.

Ah, once again, the use Time and Newsweek as the bellwether for all "media".

Seriously, so what if those two magazines bite the dust?

The mag biz, much like the rest of the "media" biz (which in my analysis covers mags, books, TV, movies, and web) is in the middle of a gigantic ad revenue crater. But here's the thing about advertising downturns, they end when the recession ends.

Buster (#2,269)

Your newsweekly bashing asideâ€"you bastards!â€"those numbers don't make any sense. I have no doubt that they came from the MPA, but come on: TIME with $320 million in circ revenue in 2002 and $160 million in ad revenue! That's adorable. If that were true, all of TIME's reporters and writers and editors would be driving around in chauffeured limos, like, well, like Conde guys.

For each of the magazines above, what you're looking at the gross number of subs, multiplied it by the "list" price of a subscriptionâ€"which no one has ever paid in the history of TIME or any other magazine. Likewise, "ad pages" uses the same retardo-math: The number is derived from counting up the number of pages sold by the "open rate" bullshit number that no advertiser ever pays. Subs, and ad pages, are variably priced and the numbers in this chart are not real. Not even, I should add, directionally real since you might increase the price of an ad page, sell fewer of them, but make more $$$. )Don't laugh: It happens.)

That said, yeah, duh, print is taking a pounding. But this is nothing more than a really pretty diagram, full of the sound and fury of an idiot, signifying nothing. No offense to Awl. Which I love. Carry on…

Gordon Woolf (#2,285)

The revenue balance between copysales/subs and ad sales is difficult enough to calculate from inside a publication but you certainly show the way things are going.

However I'd question whether it is all bad, and some specialist magazines are at least as healthy as they were. Although readers do like ads, they don't like too many of them, so a slight change in the balance of editorial to ads can work wonders for popularity. Unfortunately, many magazine publishers have taken the easy route to success and find that copy sales and subscriptions are not enough to keep them going when ad sales fall.

Several years ago, as a free download for buyers of my book "How to Start and Produce a Magazine or Newsletter" I created an ad rates calculator which let any publisher or potential publisher show what the effects on revenue are if there are substantial discounts for series bookings, or a greater proportion of larger ads which produce less revenue than an equivalent space filled with smaller ads. If ad sales people were sent out to sell more smaller ads, some publishers might find their balance sheet improving dramatically.

Readers might be happier too, since smaller ads, as a generalization, tend to more informational rather than just boosting a brand. And happier readers will be more likely to renew their subscription.

Magazines may have to change their ways to survive, but specialist ones will survive, and in print. I for one would certainly like to see fewer meaningless ads from major companies, and more smaller ones from those who can really do something for me.

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