Every so often you stumble over a statistic that takes your breath away. Here's one:
Newsweek's paid newsstand circulation averages just under 67,000 copies a week.
WTF? Only 67,000 people take money out of their pocket each week to buy a copy of a national magazine in a nation of more than 300 million people? That really doesn't sound good. And it gets worse when you take the math a couple steps farther.
Let's see if we can estimate how many different places Newsweek can be purchased. Newsstand sales aren't restricted to newsstands; they include all places magazines are sold, including supermarkets, bookstores, etc. So let's do some math:
- There are slightly more than 35,000 supermarkets in the U.S. Most of them probably offer Newsweek in their checkout lines.
- There are about 50,000 drug stores in the U.S. Let's say half of them sell magazines.
- There are 4,000 bookstores in the U.S. Again, let's say half sell magazines.
- There are a bit more than 3,400 newsstands.
- Let's not forget 7-Elevens, which all sell Newsweek: 5,700 of those. There are probably at least as many other convenience stores under different names.
Take all of those together—and I'm doubtless leaving out many other outlets where copies of Newsweek can be purchased—and you get 70,000 or so possible places you can plunk down $5.95 to pick up a copy of Newsweek.
In other words, unless something in my math is wacky, Newsweek sells an average of less than one newsstand copy a week in each place that it's available. Oh my.
That's just Not Good. You have to wonder if the magazine even can break even distributing that many copies to that many places and selling less than one copy apiece (to say nothing of the returns--there usually are several copies on the rack, of course).
It's not like Newsweek is making it up on subscription circulation, either. It recently announced plans to reduce its circulation rate base to 1.5 million copies a week—from a recent high of 3.1 million. And of course, a lot of that circulation is in the form of heavily discounted subscriptions.
Then there's Newsweek's advertising—such as it is. It's a pretty thin magazine these days.
Guess all this is why Newsweek lost $20.3 million in the first quarter of this year on revenue of $46.1 million. Those are ugly numbers. But given the circulation statistics, they're hardly surprising. It's a little hard to see why—especially in an age of real-time online news—The Washington Post Co. is keeping Newsweek alive. Readers (and advertisers) just don't seem to care.