Masthead Special Reports

Circ Watch 2008

Big titles suffer big losses in a rough year for subscription sales

by Marco Ursi

The business of selling subscriptions remains a challenge for circulators in Canada. The competition for consumer attention from other media remains fierce, while ever-increasing mailing costs keep the profitability question open.

Due to good lobbying work from Magazines Canada and the Canadian Business Press, the federal government halted plans by the Canada Post Corp. to pull $15-million from the $60-million Publications Assistance Program (PAP), but the issue will likely come up again in 2008.

Some circulators are experimenting with new tactics, such as search engine marketing, while others are taking a back-to-basics approach, focusing on classic methods such as direct mail and telemarketing (see Masthead Online story from November 14).

Subscription sales for ABC–audited titles were down 2.2% for the June 2007 period compared to June 2006. Only eight magazines posted gains during that period. For the Top 45 CCAB-audited titles, 20 of the 36 magazines that deal in subscriptions suffered declines.

Some of the country’s biggest titles saw the biggest base drops. Titles taking big hits include Reader’s Digest (30,705 units/-3.6%), Chatelaine (19,777/-3.6%), Time (17,623/-8.6%), Canadian Geographic (12,904/-6.3%), Today’s Parent (11,750/-8.6%), Flare (8,043/-5.7%), Canadian House & Home (5,548/-3.1%) and Canadian Business (5,138/-6.2%). Though many of these books saw improvements on the newsstand, it often wasn’t enough to prevent an overall drop. Total paid and verified circulation was down for 38 of the 60 paid subscription titles audited by ABC in 2006 and 2007, though the overall percentage decline is less than one per cent. 

ABC Top 5 Subscription Decliners for June 2007 vs. June 2006

Decliners by Volume (Paid subscribers)
Reader’s Digest 30,705
Chatelaine 19,777
Canadian Home & Country 18,165
Time 17,623
Canadian Geographic 12,904

Decliners by Percentage
Alive -33.7
Canadian Home & Country -15.9
Gardening Life -14.0
BC Outdoors Sports Fishing and Outdoor Adventure -13.3
Filles Clin D’Oeil -11.0

There are some bright spots, however, especially with regards to ABC-audited Quebec titles. There were solid percentage increases at Décoration Chez-Soi (18.7%), Clin d’Oeil (10.3%), Fleurs Plantes Jardins (19.2%), Les idees de ma maison (16.4%), and the French edition of Lou Lou 10.4%. The English language Lou Lou also grabbed over 10,000 more subscribers, an increase of 10.4%.

Elle Canada, which had a poor newsstand year, did well on the sub side, selling an additional 12,836 subscriptions, a 14.7% increase. Canadian Living also did well to bring its subscriber base up to 388,953—its first increase in subscribers since 2003.

Subscription cancellations and non-renewals at Maclean’s, meanwhile, appear to be leveling off, dropping just 1.8% this year, compared to 3.7% last year, 3.8% in 2005, and 6.4% in 2004.

On the CCAB side, The Walrus gained over 9,000 new subscribers during March 07 to March 06 period, an increase of 32.5%. Our Canada appears to be resonating with readers, as subs grew by 17%. French-language outdoors magazine Aventure Chaisse et Peche also found a larger audience, increasing its subscriber base by just over 7,000, or 23.9%.   

ABC Top 5 Subscription Gainers for June 2007 vs. June 2006

Gainers by Volume (Paid subscribers)
Elle Canada 12,836
Lou Lou (English) 10,950
Fleurs Plants Jardins 9,563
Canadian Living 8,687
Les Idees De Ma Maison 7,890

Gainers by Percentage
What’s Up Kids Family Magazine 57.7
Star Systeme 24.2
Fleurs Plants Jardins 19.2
Decoration Chez-Soi 18.7
Les Idees De Ma Maison 16.4

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Most Recent News Comment
Jaded says:
Wow, Torstar really seems to be on a mission to bankrupt one magazine after another....