Reading Between The Lines Of ABC

The very sneaky powers-that-be at the Audit Bureau of Ciculations all but guaranteed that circulation figures for the second half of 2005 would be buried by releasing the figures on a holiday. Only The New York Times’ Kit Seelye, bravely defying the ban on working yesterday, appears to have broken down ABC’s report for the common man. (And if you’re mystified as to why ABC would want to bury these figures — which are perhaps the best snapshot of the state of the industry — then you haven’t been paying attention.)

While Kit hits all the highlights — the celebrity weeklies are up, Oprah is down, the newsweeklies did this, the teen magazines did that — a few interesting stats escaped her notice. But they didn’t escape mine. The highlights and lowlights:

  • Playboy appears to be in the midst of a full-blown newsstand meltdown. Single-copy sales fell 29 percent in the last half of 2005, from 378,036 to 268,429. That’s on top of a 23 percent decline in the first half last year. Two years ago, Playboy averaged 450,834 single copies per issue. This spring, it might end up selling half that amount if the freefall continues.
  • Things are going to get worse at Penthouse before they get better. Now under new management — management which told me last fall that they thought they could add a million readers in just 12 monthsPenthouse continued its semi-annual tradition of a scary percentage decline. The magazine everyone was afraid to even look at by the end of Bob Guccione Sr.’s tenure shed another 14.6 percent of its circulation, and now has an average of 326,358 copies per issue.
  • Has Jason Binn finally stopped pretending? Although the publisher of Niche Media will swear up and down that his glossies have some of the best demographics in the known universe, his enemies (and there are many) gripe that the only place to find a copy is at Michael’s. I’ll pick up a copy today, and if he’s having lunch, I’ll ask while he hasn’t filed a publisher’s report for Gotham or Hamptons in a year.
  • For those of you keeping score on Adam Moss at home: newsstand sales of New York are up a whopping 16.6 percent. That represents a gain of about 4,000 copies per week, but still.
  • The about-to-be-sold Spin missed its rate base of 550,00 after total circulation fell from 571, 398 to 540,901 per issue. Between that and a reported average single copy cover price of just 94 cents (huh?) and that lowball price tag begins to make more sense.
  • Fast Company and Inc. strip (sorta) free copies out of their circulation mix, while Fortune and Business 2.0 stir it in. New owner Joe Mansueto dumped the 24,000 and 22,000 non-paid copies in his magazines, respectively, and both added enough news subscribers that it didn’t matter. Meanwhile, over at Time Inc., Fast Company’s archrival Business 2.0 added nearly 40,000 free copies which helped boost its overall growth to 19.3 percent (the free copies represented less than half that gain, too). Fortune, however, needed the help and still didn’t get enough — its total circulation decline half a percentage point even after adding nearly 23,000 non-paid copies per issue.