Consumer Magazine Market Predicted to Shed $1.3B by 2017

Digital dollars are growing, but not fast enough

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The narrative behind the magazine industry has remained steady for a while—newsstand is down, circulation is flat and digital is growing but tiny—and according to PwC’s new Entertainment & Media Outlook 2013-2017, the financial future of publishing will reflect that decline.

PwC’s report, set to be released Wednesday, estimates that the U.S. consumer magazine market will be worth $23 billion in 2017, down from $25 billion in 2012. The market has bounced back slightly since the recession (total magazine revenue fell 15.8 percent in 2009 alone), but PwC predicts that it will drop again as print circulation falls and marketers continue to abandon the medium.

Over the next four years, expect to see even more advertisers abandon print. PwC estimated that consumer magazine advertising will fall to $15.2 billion in 2017 from $16.4 billion in 2012. Advertising now accounts for 67 of total consumer magazine revenue—up from 62 percent in 2009, when it declined in line with the recession.

Numbers on the print side, unsurprisingly, aren’t good. Print circulation spending already fell from $9.8 billion in 2008 to $7.9 billion in 2012, and is estimated to fall at a CAGR of 4 percent to $6.4 billion in 2017 as consumers continue to look to tablets and smartphones over magazines for portable entertainment and information. Some publishers are introducing models that have loyal customers paying several times the average subscription price for access to special content.

Digital advertising in magazines will continue to grow rapidly in the next few years. Digital ad spending is projected to hit $3.8 billion in 2017 when it will represent a quarter of overall advertising, from $2.4 billion in 2012. Consumers' spending on digital circulation, meanwhile, will increase from $275 million to $1.4 billion in the same period—both of which should help offset the decline in print circulation and ad spend.

However, the magazine industry’s own actions are getting in the way. Publishers continue to hurt themselves by failing to adopt consistent digital strategies—or even to accept a standard definition of what a digital magazine is. “Digital investments continue, but only at a pace that converts analogue dollars into digital dimes, perhaps even pennies,” the report states. “Thus, the digital divisions of publishing businesses are akin to living in an unfinished extension that has been built onto a house that fewer people come to visit.”

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.