Prediction: Hearst to Sell More Than 50% of Subs Online in 2010

The Internet is becoming a panacea to soft newsstand sales at Hearst Magazines, as the company predicts it will sell more than half its subscriptions via the Web next year.

For all 2009, Hearst expects to get some 3.2 million subs, or about 40 percent of its direct-to-publisher subs, from online sources using a newly launched consumer database, said Chuck Cordray, senior vp, general manager, Hearst Magazines Digital Media.

Those figures exclude agent-sold subscriptions, which publishers usually don’t detail but tend to generate little money for magazines.

“Where newsstand is lower, online subs have been able to replace that in a profitable fashion,” Cordray said in an interview. “That 50 percent mark had never been on the horizon, and now it’s becoming a reality. I’ll be very disappointed if we can’t in the next 36 months get past 75 percent.”

Publishers have shifted subscription sales to the Web in a quest to offset lower newsstand sales and find cheaper ways to maintain subscriber levels. For the first half of 2009, single-copy sales fell 12.4 percent industrywide, per the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

On the ad front, Hearst’s digital group is projected to grow ad revenue 20 percent this year, a slowdown from the 60 percent growth Hearst achieved in 2008 when it completed its first full year of selling its sites on its own.

Cordray also promised another “significant” vertical launch in early 2010 similar to Hearst’s recent launches of (a food site) and He wouldn’t share details but said it would represent an effort to expand into a content category that Hearst currently doesn’t dominate.