‘Vogue’ Reigns on Newsstand

'Bazaar' and 'Marie Claire' having a tough first half

It’s no secret that magazines’ newsstand sales have been dismal. But Anna Wintour’s Vogue has been bucking the trend, and not by a little.

For the first five months of the year, newsstand sales for the Condé Nast title have averaged 370,000—nearly 16 percent over last year’s first-half average. Single-copy sales make up about 28 percent of Vogue’s 1.3 million circulation.

Elsewhere in the fashion category, the most dramatic falloffs were at Hearst’s Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire. While both have a smaller newsstand presence, they are down 21 percent year-over-year for their first four issues of 2011, to 126,000 (Bazaar) and 200,250 (Marie Claire).

Reps for Bazaar, a direct rival to Vogue, and Marie Claire pointed out that they were competing against strong issues in the first half of last year. Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles also admitted that some experimental cover choices this year—a man, Limitless star Bradley Cooper, and multiple subjects—didn’t sell as well as hoped. “It’s clear, we prefer one woman on the cover,” she said. Lesson learned: Coles put Jennifer Aniston on July’s cover, and she said it’s already tracking 14 percent ahead of last year’s July.

Among big newsstand sellers, Hearst’s Cosmopolitan fared relatively well, off just 1.6 percent to 1.6 million for its first five issues. Others haven’t performed as well. Time Inc.’s InStyle slipped 8 percent to 571,000 for its first five issues (its average was brought up by its March issue, which sold 662,000). Condé’s Glamour is off 16 percent on the same basis, to 461,600. And Elle, which recently became part of the Hearst stable, is down 4.7 percent to 261,250 for its first four issues.

Even People Stylewatch’s meteoric circulation rise has cooled since its launch four years ago. Its newsstand is down 8.5 percent to 523,000 for its first three issues.

Numbers come from the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ Rapid Report, which represents publishers’ self-reported, preliminary circulation figures.

Fashion magazines aren’t alone in their newsstand struggles. In the first quarter, total retail dollar sales for magazines declined 6 percent, according to Magazine Information Network, a clearinghouse for magazine retail sales, which put most of the blame on high gas prices.

That backdrop makes Vogue’s increase all the more intriguing. It should be pointed out that it’s facing easy comparisons with the first half of 2010, when it was a standout in a bad way, its single-copy sales down a whopping 15 percent.

Still, Vogue could be benefiting from other factors. Despite high gas prices, there are indications that consumers are starting to spend on luxury items again, which could be helping the magazine. The publicity-shy Wintour has been more visible lately, hitting the streets at Fashion's Night Out, giving interviews more frequently, and recently showing up at the Webby Awards—all of which could be having its own PR effect on the magazine. A rep for Wintour said she was in Europe and couldn't be reached for comment.

Or, it could just be that her cover choices are hitting the mark. March’s Lady Gaga cover was the big winner so far, with sales estimated at 445,000, but January’s Natalie Portman cover and April’s, featuring Rihanna, also sold well.

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