27 Aug

What Do The Latest Magazine ABC Figures Mean To You?

More Doom And Gloom As The Magazine Publishing Industry Digests The Latest Magazine ABC figures

It’s ABC time once again and the great and the good will either celebrate the death of a once great industry or announce that its all about content and sales no longer matter.

What does all this mean to you…very little in all likelihood.

Publishing executives in plush offices across West London will have arrived at work early having no doubt digested the fact that magazine sales are down by a million copies in a year, but does this actually have any impact on your business.


Magazine Auditing by the ABC

 What Is The ABC Anyway?

For anyone starting a magazine and wondering what exactly an ABC figure is…well here is the answer;

  • ABC stands for Audit Bureau of Circulations.
  • The ABC is a body made up of publishers and advertisers.
  • ABC audits the print and digital sales of members publications.
  • Advertisers use ABC audited figures to compare the sales of magazines.

The theory is that advertisers can compare the sales and distribution of competing magazines. Traditionally this only encompassed print magazines but in recent years digital sales have also been included.

If You Are New To Magazine Publishing Its Not Like The Good Old Days

The figures nowadays are pretty clean but anyone who has been around the publishing industry for as long as I have will have spent a good number of years engaged in the tricky business of fanagling the ABC’s.

A dark cloud of secrecy still hovers over much of what we were up to. You may well remember the photos of the street vendors of the late  and un-lamented London Lite throwing unopened bundles into skips rather than standing on street corners trying their best to foist them onto disinterested Londoners.

My favorite was  the great Magazine Export Scam, a trick that every self respecting publisher was aware of and which kept the Finance Director off your back come ABC time. To this day I am, in equal measure, proud of this scams devious complexity and ashamed of its dishonesty.

Anyway, unless I am missing something, the glory days are behind us and the current crop of ABC figures reflect a fair picture of the sales achieved by those tiles audited.

What Do The latest Magazine ABC’s Tell Us

This is where it gets rather grim…

  • Magazine newsstand sales are down 5.2% on the same period last year.
  • Some segments are doing better than others. The best performing segment is down 2.5% the worst down 31.8%
  • Most depressing figure, well for those of us old enough to remember the rush of excitement on a Thursday morning which greeted the arrival of the NME the news that the New Musical Express now has a newsstand sale of only 8,433 copies, down 35% in six month, is a hammer blow. It once sold 250,000.

What About Subscription Sales?

This is an interesting one, subscriptions have to date weathered the storm rather better than newsstand sales but the current ABC’s show circulation declines beginning to eat into subscription sales. Across the board subscription sales are down 3%

Subscriptions across all titles now account for an average of 18% of copies sold although the varies widely from title to title.

Is There Any Good News?

Of course there is!

  • Digital sales are up 37% admittedly from a low base and app sales are still not taking off in the volumes that most publisher believed that they would, but there is real growth.
  • Over half of the audited magazines now record a digital sales figure.
  • Digital magazines have a far higher share of overseas circulation than UK.
  • Some titles are bucking the downward trend and performing well.
  • Cosmopolitan, Essentials, Ideal Home, Health and Fitness, Tatler, Vanity Fair, Woman’s Own all recorded increased sales.

Why None Of This Matters Anyway

So the bottom line is that newsstand circulations are down around 5% and subscription sales are down about 3%. If you are either starting a magazine or running an established magazine publishing business chances are this means little or nothing to you


  • Of the 1000’s of magazines in publication only 220 produce an ABC.
  • Take out free and subscription only titles and only 176 magazine have an ABC certificate.
  • The vast majority are long established magazines published by a handful of multinational publishers who do not even breath the same air that you do.

The only reason to have an ABC, other than vanity, is to sell advertising. The figures speak for themselves, 1000’s of magazines are selling advertising to clients who are willing to spend and willing to return without the comfort of an ABC certificate.

Advertisers spend money to advertise in your magazine for one of two reasons to build brand awareness or to see a response…and I’m willing to bet that if you publish a small magazine in a niche market they will be a lot more interested in response than brand building.

If you are producing a brilliant magazine and delivering readers who respond to the advertising in your publication then where is the relevance of a certificate to prove your circulation.

One Thing You Can Do Today

If you have a competitor who is ABC audited go to the ABC website and download their certificate. The certificates are available to anyone and contain some really useful information about what your competitor is up to such as

  • The total sale on the newsstand.
  • The number of subscribers and how many were discounted.
  • Number of copies sold overseas
  • Any copies that they are giving away free of charge

Follow this link to the ABC website and have a butchers…its great fun!

How I Can Help

If you are considering registering for an ABC audit I can help you understand how the auditing process works. It is complex and there are costs which I can help you understand. If you go ahead I can even manage the audit submission process for you. Contact me today if you would like to discuss the value of ABC auditing.

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