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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Cover of US Weekly

Photo By Courtesy Photo

It’s not as if they have a choice — across the category, declining single-copy sales have led to layoffs, cuts in trim size, fewer pages per issue and some magazines are simply printing bigger photos, using captions that are written by the paparazzi. The reporters are cut out of the equation, while the photo departments are staffing up.

“With the exception of People, now if you get 500,000 copies sold, it’s considered a hit,” said one source. “Four or five years ago, that would have been considered a disaster. If someone had told Janice Min [former Us Weekly editor in chief, who left the title in late 2009] that selling 600,000 copies was a success she would have said you’re a crazy person.”

Since 2008, every title has sneaked price increases into the equation, and People is, in some cases, raising the price one week to the next. It’s one small way of combatting a new reality. Recent examples at People include the royal wedding issue, which sold 2 million copies; exclusive coverage of the Kardashian wedding, which sold 1.5 million (although the magazine reportedly paid the family a few million bucks), and the recent Steve Jobs cover.

“It’s worked out for the reader and the magazine,” said managing editor Larry Hackett. “Those issues are really special. We had 13 pages devoted to the life of Steve Jobs. These are smart things to do and I think shows a sign of confidence in the brand. ”

People’s newsstand, which is down 24 percent over the past three years, has Time Inc. management concerned: Some weeks, sales have dipped into the 800,000 range. In the old days, the title never went below 1 million copies sold a week. In a sign of the times, Hackett noted that People was number one on the Nook out of the gate, and many issues of the Kardashian wedding were sold on the Nook.

In some cases, People has been posting $1 off coupons on its site to drive newsstand. This gimmick comes at a cost, but Hackett claims it’s been working. “We’ve seen a real impact with that.”

People rival Us Weekly is also down 24 percent on the newsstand since 2008. Like the competition, it has been negatively affected by the economy, changes in spending and fewer trips to the supermarket. And then there’s the Internet, with the dozens of blogs and sites that are being constantly updated.

The weeklies have responded with their own Web sites, but they must continue to adapt and be more nimble. Or else they’ll truly end up like the dinosaurs — who were out-competed by the furry, ratlike early mammals that evolved and now take the 5:15 New Jersey Transit home to Montclair.


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