MRI: Magazine Digital Readership Tiny but Growing

Auto, gaming magazines pull in more readers; fashion, news lose

Magazines' digital readership is making gains, but not enough to offset a decline in print readership, according to the latest GfK MRI Survey of the American Consumer, which tracks magazine audiences.

Across the 190 magazines tracked by the survey, the total print audience declined by 1.7 percent in the past six months versus the prior six-month period. At the same time, digital readership (which could be digital-only or in combination with print readership) had increased by 24 percent on the same basis. However, digital-only reading added 1 percent to overall magazine readership. These digital readership figures include magazines' digital reproductions and apps but not magazine websites.

“People are starting to read magazines digitally more,” said Anne Marie Kelly, svp of marketing and strategic planning at GfK MRI. “For all of the excitement, it is still nationally very small. But we are seeing evidence that things are moving in the right direction.”

MRI's findings are in line with paid circulation figures that have become public. In the second half of 2011, digital editions made up less than 1 percent of total circ, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

This is only the second MRI survey that measures digital audiences; in March 2011, MRI started asking about readership of digital reproductions or magazine apps. MRI usually makes year-over-year comparisons but because of the change in survey methodology, this time it compared two consecutive six-month periods.

Although print readership was down overall (which isn't surprising, given the ongoing slide in magazines' single-copy sales), two special-interest categories managed to build their audiences. The automotive category saw a pronounced increase in its readership. Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics and Motor Trend magazines each netted around 1 million more readers between October 2011 and April 2012, while Street Rodder, Road and Track, Hot Rod and Automobile saw significant gains. Gaming magazines also saw their popularity soar. PC Gamer and Official Xbox Magazine grew their readerships by around 900,000 and 600,000, respectively, while Game Informer added more than 2 million readers.

The fashion category, as a whole, performed poorly with its readers. Every major title in the category, with the exception of Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar and Essence, saw its audience shrink. Major newsweeklies Time, Newsweek and The Economist also saw an overall decline in readership, although New York magazine bucked the trend to add more than 800,000 readers. The Atlantic, a monthly, also grew its audience by about 300,000. Celeb weeklies were a mixed bag, with People and Life & Style adding readers, and Us Weekly and In Touch posting declines.