Bauer Cuts Rate Base for Closer Magazine

Following lukewarm early newsstand sales estimates

It looks like Bauer Publishing’s ambitious plans for a new celebrity weekly might have been a bit too ambitious. Just two months after launching Closer, a title aimed at over-40 women, the publisher is slashing its 2014 rate base to 100,000 from its original circulation promise of 150,000.

In keeping with the Bauer model, Closer relies mostly on newsstand sales for revenue. But the rate base can serve the purpose of gaining advertisers’ confidence in an as-yet established title.

It could be a challenge for Closer to achieve even the lower circulation guarantee, if the first few weeks’ sales estimates are any indication.

The first issue, which made its debut Oct. 30, was heavily promoted, with Bauer putting out 2 million copies at a token price of 25 cents. That issue sold 380,000 copies, according to Magazine Information Network, which tracks magazine retail sales. The magazine then went to the full price of $3.99; at that price, the next three issues sold between 52,000 and 79,000.

Put another way, the sell-though rate (or the percentage of distributed copies that are sold) of the full-price copies ranged from 10 percent to 16 percent—well below the industry average of 30 percent.

Ian Scott, president of Bauer Advertising Sales, said the sales estimates are based on a small number of retailers and that accurate numbers won't be known until unsold copies are counted. At the same time, he said he's encouraged by the sales to date. "There's always an unknown," he said. "But overall, we're very encouraged." Still, it’s preferable to exceed a lower rate base than miss a higher one and risk a makegoods situation.

It wouldn't be entirely surprising if Closer's initial sales were off to a slow start. It entered a crowded market for celebrity news, and newsstand sales have been on the decline for years as consumers cut back on discretionary purchases and go online to keep up with the news.

On the other hand, Closer took a different editorial tack from its competitors, eschewing the Kardashians for older celebrities that 40-somethings have grown up with (Valerie Harper, Dolly Parton and Meg Ryan have been among the cover subjects). It could be that the resulting editorial, which can have a certain “where are they now” feel, just isn’t grabbing its target reader.