How magazine circulation remains steady when two weeks ago it was down 6.3%

Folio: is reporting that business-to-business (or “trade”) magazine circulation remained mostly flat during the first half of 2008, according to numbers released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Earlier this month, the same audit bureau reported newsstand sales of magazines was down 6.3% in the same period. If you weren’t living under a rock, you probably read the widespread coverage when those newsstand numbers were released. Beyond Folio, a few B-to-B bloggers and the website of American Business Media, you’ll probably not be reading much about today’s reports. That’s because to most general business reporters, “the magazine industry” is that part of the industry that pertains to consumer magazines. As I’ve noted before, that misunderstanding often leads to comparisons between magazines and other media that make little sense, i.e., comparisons of consumer advertising in magazines with all advertising on the Internet.

By now, regular readers of this blog know that I dismiss any statistics-dependent article written by a reporter. Even reporters who should know better feel compelled to quickly post any report that involves percentage signs. I’ve given up on trying to educate readers or writers about stories involving numbers*. I’ll merely remind those who are not in the magazine industry, there are distinct types of magazines. It’s impossible to say “the magazine industry” and mean something beyond the type of print format content is distributed on:

1. Consumer magazines: The kind you see on the newsstand. The ones that had a 6.3% decline in newsstand sales.

2. Business to business (or trade) magazines: The kind you receive at work, like Plumbers Weekly. The circulation of these magazines was flat during the past six months.

3. Other (which can be divided into endless sub-categories): All the magazines you get from associations, universities, non-profits, your grocery store, the company you bought your car from, the kind you pull out of the seat back pocket on an airplane, etc.

Business-to-business magazines are, like other segments of the magazine world, being transformed by the Internet. However, most companies that publish B2B media have diversified their businesses into events, information services and a wide-array of digital and online products.

Bottomline: The magazine industry is bigger than those magazines you see on the newsstand. That said, it’s an industry that must adapt to challenges and embrace a wide array of changes. Of course, you can say that about any industry, I’m sure.

*For following the way in which numbers are used and misused, I recommend the New York Times’ Freakonomics blog.

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  • The other distinction you need to make is between paid for and requested (controlled free) circulation. Controlled circulation is decided on by the publisher. Paid by the reader. The paid numbers provide an earlier indication of the health of business magazines but you also have to look closely at the rates people are paying.

  • The other distinction you need to make is between paid for and requested (controlled free) circulation. Controlled circulation is decided on by the publisher. Paid by the reader. The paid numbers provide an earlier indication of the health of business magazines but you also have to look closely at the rates people are paying.