TORONTO — The New Year will usher in a new look on Canadian newsstands as the venerable fashion magazine Flare disappears from the racks and turns its focus towards targeting a younger demographic both online and offline.
Sales of single copies of printed magazines have fallen dramatically, forcing the industry to re-evaluate distribution and adapt, says Bo Sacks, president of the U.S.-based consulting firm Precision Media Group.
"In the last five years, we have lost 50 per cent of the newsstand sale. And that is a trend that's not going away," says Sacks.
"Every year, we seem to lose nine to 11 per cent of the sales we used to have before. This is a trend that seems inescapable. At what point does it plateau? I have no idea. But it doesn't look like anytime soon."
Flare is currently averaging 1,800 copies sold on newsstands, which is less than 2.5 per cent of its total circulation, says Melissa Ahlstrand, group publisher for fashion and beauty at Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B).
"Essentially with those kinds of numbers on newsstands, we really had to take a good look at how we distribute our print copies. It's a very small quantity," Ahlstrand says, adding that Flare will still publish 10 print editions in 2016 for subscribers.
Data provided from the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) revealed that Flare had average monthly newsstand sales of 2,658 copies in the first half of the year, while 27,825 monthly digital sales represented 28.9 per cent of Flare's total paid circulation.
Ahlstrand says millennial readers aren't regular newsstand buyers, and in an effort to connect with "young, cool, smart women" they've decided to invest in another form of print distribution to reach that demographic: distributing overrun copies in urban centres.
"Where we may lose the visibility in newsstands — albeit small — we're actually gaining a lot more visibility through this alternative distribution."
Across the industry, a comparative analysis of 56 Canadian titles found overall paid and verified circulation was down 4.8 per cent for the first half of 2014 compared to the first half of 2013, according to AAM. Verified circulation includes subscription copies designed for readership in public places, like those in waiting rooms, hotel rooms or by airlines.
While single-copy sales saw a three per cent increase, paid subscriptions were down 10.1 per cent.
D. B. Scott, who blogs at Canadian Magazines, says that while the absence of newsstand copies may be an inconvenience for some, they represent a small subset of readers.
"When your single copy sales shrink from 8,000 or 10,000 to a couple of thousand that's a much less effective means of marketing than it had traditionally been," says Scott, president of Impresa Communications, which specializes in consulting for the magazine and newspaper industry.
"There probably is a line that a magazine crosses where it is no longer effective, and it is a very expensive thing to maintain a single-copy strategy if it's not achieving its principle goal — which is to get you new subscribers."
But Sacks argues the newsstand is still "critical to the long-term survival of magazines," despite the drop in sales.
"This is where people discover magazines," says Sacks. "Sure, you can save a lot of money by eliminating your print title. But long-term, discoverability becomes a much bigger problem."
At the recent FIPP World Congress for magazine media in Toronto, there was considerable discussion about the change in industry culture, says Rowland Lorimer, founder of the Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University.
"Throughout the large magazine sector, they're all talking about changing their understanding of the new model from a periodical publishing to more or less continuous publishing in all kinds of ways. Not just a snippet on Twitter or a very short article, but actually making articles available, enhancing them with video and so on. It's a major change."
— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.
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