Women's Lifestyle Magazines: What do the Latest Readership Figures Tell Us?

Although the 2 terms often get used interchangeably, readership and circulation are very different things and are measured by 2 very different bodies.Print and now tablet circulation of magazines - the number of magazines and tablet editions physically distributed - is measured by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). The print and online readership of magazines - as in the number of people that physically read a print or online magazine (i.e. web version) - is measured by the National Readership Survey with additional information on online readership provided by ComScore.We find it useful to compare readership and circulation figures because it gives us a fuller and more holistic view of the strength of a magazine brand. Just because a magazine's print circulation (or even print readership) is declining, doesn't mean that the magazine is losing its influence, as long as it's growing in other sectors.We thought we'd share some topline findings from the latest figures from both ABC (January to June 2014) and NRS/ComScore (rolling annual figures July '13 to June '14.)

  • In terms of print and digital circulation, the no.1 paid for monthly women's lifestyle title is Good Housekeeping followed by Glamour magazine, Cosmopolitan, Woman & Home and Prima. However, because NRS figures include website readership, the pecking order is very different. Instead of Good Housekeeping being at no.1, Cosmopolitan is with a combined print and website readership of 1,514,000, followed by Good Housekeeping, Vogue, Glamour and Marie Claire.
  • The ABC figures make rough reading for magazines with most in circulation decline, and the readership figures don't provide any comfort. In most cases, the overall readership declines are worse than the circulation decline, often exacerbated by online readership falls that are higher than the print falls. It's a clear reflection of the strategy of most magazines, where the print title is very much the hub of content. If that begins to falter, the website often follows.
  • 2 titles that are bucking a declining readership trend are Good Housekeeping and Vanity Fair. The former has managed a small growth in both offline and online readership since the figures were released for the same period last year, the latter has had a fall in print readership more than compensated for by a much larger readership growth online.
  • The decision by Hearst to make Company online only is vindicated by the readership figures - print readership has been in rapid decline but online readership is up by 69%. That being said, taking away the print title does wipe out 4/5s of its readership and it will be interesting to see how many migrate online. It will also be fascinating to see how a Hearst publication fares without the content shackles of having a print edition.

Overall, the readership figures tell a story of traditional print titles not only losing circulation but also losing their relevance online and offline as women turn to alternative authorities - new blogs, online and tablet brands - for their fashion and lifestyle advice. Can traditional magazines reverse this decline? Probably not - they seem to be shackled by their desire to preserve their print circulations at all costs, meaning nimbler digital rivals can produce better tablet and online offerings than they can.Of course, print circulations of established magazines may decline to a level that publishers throw caution to the wind - but by then, it may be too little too late.