WASHINGTON -- After a prolonged dry spell, single-copy magazine sales were up in 2002, said speakers at the Retail Conference of the Magazine Publishers of America, New York, here last week.
While advertising sales were up last year, and new subscriptions also are showing promise, "newsstand sales have made the most pronounced shift and are the strongest they have been in many years," said Nina B. Link, president and chief executive officer of the MPA.
Citing numbers from the International Periodical Distributors Association, New York, which co-sponsored the conference with MPA, Link said total retail dollar sales of magazines grew last year by 3.5%, with annual unit sales increasing by nearly 1%.
"That is the first time since 1996 that unit sales increased. In fact, only twice in all of the 1990s did unit sales grow. For the last five years, the declines have regularly been over 5%. So today, we have reason to be encouraged," Link said.
Additionally, sell-through rates improved in 2002 for the second consecutive year. "Because of systemic changes in the marketplace, that measure is unlikely ever to return to the levels of the early '80s, but we do expect to see it continue to move up into the 40% range in the near future," she said.
"Not to sound too Pollyannaish about our progress, but in 2002 vs. 2001, several of our industry's key matrixes improved," said Thomas Fogarty, conference chairman and vice president, single copy sales, Primedia, New York. This was bolstered by the introduction of several successful new titles, such as In Touch and Teen Vogue, he said.
Citing the expanded Market Basket Study research by Management Science Associates, initially presented at last year's conference, he noted that magazine consumers spend more dollars per visit and shop more often than non-magazine purchasers. "These two points should be included in every sales aid we provide to supermarkets in our quest to increase the category space and promotional opportunities," Fogarty said.
Meanwhile, a recent study by Mediamark Research, New York, showed that more people are reading more magazines than ever before, Link said. "Clearly, magazines are a cherished media, one that constantly adapts to societal changes and is showing glimmers of growth after a tough year," she said.
During the conference, two new studies were unveiled. One, called the "Supermarket Checkout Puzzle," indicated that magazines outperformed all but one other category at the front end of supermarkets, while using space more efficiently in generating higher profits.
Another study -- "Front-End Focus 2002" -- showed that the proliferation of merchandise at the front end has resulted in an overall decline in purchase frequency by customers.
"The MPA has developed a wealth of magazine readership information that clearly demonstrates an expanded level of values that magazines create for retailers," Link said.
The group has commissioned a study by Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., to "provide a deeper understanding of magazine usage, the readers' relationship with magazines and the evolution of the whole magazine experience," she said.