AAM Snapshot reveals Reader’s Digest circulation drop

February 07, 2013  |  Chris Powell  |  Comments

Known for its folksy “Life’s Like That” stories and moving tales of people surviving against all odds, it seems that Reader’s Digest could use a pick-me-up of its own these days.

Its flagship English-language publication has seen its circulation fall by more than 84,000 in the past year according to the new “Snapshot” report of consumer magazines by the Alliance for Audited Media (or AAM, formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations).

The country’s largest magazine by circulation less than a year ago, Reader’s Digest has tumbled into third place following a 15.2% drop in paid and verified circulation. The Snapshot report lists Reader’s Digest’s circulation for the six months ended Dec. 31, 2011 at 472,883, down from 557,700 in the year earlier period.

Parent company the Reader’s Digest Association has reportedly cut more than half of its staff at its Montreal head office. A story by the St. Catharines Standard earlier this week said the company – which publishes five titles including Best Health, Our Canada and the French-language Sélection – reduced staff to 80 from more than 200.

Reader’s Digest did not respond to interview requests, but told the Standard that plummeting sales were a key factor in its decision to lay off staff.

David Cairns, a partner in Toronto media agency Cairns O’Neil, said that the problem is not unique to Reader’s Digest in Canada. In the U.S., the publication filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 – emerging several months later after restructuring – and went on to hire three CEOs within a six-month span in 2011.

Its circulation in the most recent report was relatively stable, with a negligible 0.6% decline according to AAM.

At the same time, said Cairns, consumer packaged goods companies are increasingly moving away from print and into digital, which is adversely impacting ad revenues. “Financial problems and unstable management may be affecting content, which ultimately is what consumers buy,” he said.

Cairns also called the publication’s business model as a monthly print aggregator “somewhat problematic,” since it would likely be harder hit by internet search than other publications. “What’s easier, searching through the print edition for articles you may want to read, or searching the internet for articles you do want to read?” he said.

Paid and verified circulation for the 67 Canadian consumer titles reporting comparable data for the six-month period ending Dec. 31, 2012 and the year-earlier period was down 3.5% according to the AAM Snapshot. Paid subscriptions were down 6.2%, while single-copy sales declined a more modest 1.2%.

Rogers Media’s flagship title Chatelaine is now the country’s biggest title with paid and verified circulation of 536,478, essentially unchanged from the year-earlier reporting period. Its biggest competitor, TC Media’s Canadian Living, saw its circulation grow 0.9% to 513,027. Maclean’s (circulation of 311,974, a 5.5% decline from the year-earlier period) and Canadian House and Home (246,066, +1.4%) rounded out the top five.

The AAM Snapshot also produced some other surprises, most notably a huge 83.2% increase in newsstand sales for the Rogers business title Moneysense – which saw single-copy sales increase from an average of 17,583 to 32,213. On the flipside, the shopping magazine LouLou saw its single-copy sales decline 14.8%, from 49,101 to 41,829.

TC Media’s Style at Home is the country’s best-selling title at newsstands with single-copy sales of 124,771, followed by Chatelaine (107,097, +8.37%) and Canadian House and Home (85,537, +8.16%).

According to the AAM report, digital replica editions continued to make significant headway in the second half of 2012. In the U.S., 289 titles reported more than 7.9 million digital replica editions (representing approximately 2.4% of the total average circulation). According to the AAM, the number of average digital magazine copies sold more than doubled from the second half of 2011 – when 245 magazines reported approximately 3.2 million average digital replica copies.

Canadian AAM data can be found at the organization’s website.

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