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Going Down: Celebrity Weeklies Battle Circ Slide

The sector needs more than a blockbuster event to stop its longtime slide in newsstand sales.

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Kardashian octuplets? Unnamed sources report that desperate gossip rags have offered to pay for fertility treatments for Kim Kardashian in the hopes that she might produce a record-breaking…celebrity cover.

Of course, this isn’t true — but an editor can dream, can’t he?

This might be the kind of blockbuster event needed for the celebrity weekly sector to stop its longtime slide in newsstand sales. Glossy, gossipy weeklies have long ruled the check-out aisles like majestic dinosaurs, with larger-than-life stories of exotic celebrity nuptials, fantasy vacations and completely implausible diets. But the recession has hit the titles like a Paleolithic meteor, and the encroaching glaciers of Internet gossip mop buckets, such as TMZ and OMG, herald climatic changes that not all magazines may survive.

Just look at last week’s newsstand numbers as evidence of the shift. OK magazine, which was recently acquired by American Media Inc., sold about 255,000 issues with Sandra Bullock on the cover, a surprisingly small figure considering typical Bullock sales or sales of the title at its peak. During the past seven weeks, the title has averaged just 270,000 copies sold, according to sources. Its lowest-seller ever, per insiders, was the Sept. 12 issue with Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Aniston, selling 175,000 copies on newsstands.

The magazine’s slide has been inexorable since the 2008 recession began, with a 43 percent drop on the newsstand, comparing the first half of 2008 versus the first half of this year, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Nor is OK the only one not OK.

Life & Style sold 364,000 single copies for its latest issue, according to sources, and is down 36 percent on the newsstand, to 334,700, from the first half of 2008 versus the same period this year. Sister title In Touch is down 29 percent on newsstands during the same period.

“These magazines don’t have premium advertising to lean on,” said one insider. “I don’t know how they are making money.”

The business model of Bauer, parent of Life & Style and In Touch, is set up to make most of its revenues from newsstand sales. “It’s one of their biggest problems,” said one source.

“At some point, if I’m on the media buying side, you’re asking why I need Life & Style,” said Jack Hanrahan, publisher of CircMatters. “It has shrunk so far that it’s unlikely that it’s adding much reach to a media schedule. I’m not sure both of those can continue [In Touch and Life & Style] given current trends.”

So how to survive the meteor if you’re a celebrity weekly?

“This is the beauty of being at AMI,” OK editor Richard Spencer said, claiming he’s not panicked about newsstand. “They [AMI] are very good at looking at the numbers and being cost effective. It was a waste of money before. We’ve turned into a lean, mean fighting machine.”

One example that Spencer provided: Hiring people who can both write and edit stories. Plus OK’s back-office operations are now all handled by AMI, further trimming the title’s expenses. “I think a lot of people at the competition are quite depressed every day,” Spencer said. “We’re not depressed. We’re really excited. The model is working for us, cost wise.” Executives at the title even claim that with all the changes, profitability is on the horizon.

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