It’s never been easy to figure out the true circulation numbers for print magazines and it’s even trickier nowadays. For example: Is Costco Connection a magazine or an extended ad/PR thing that looks like a magazine? If it’s a magazine, it’s got the 3rd largest circulation in the country. I say it’s a quilted ad so to heck with it.
This morning, I was idly wading through various circulation lists and settled on a rough consensus to reach a few simple conclusions.
The two magazines with the largest circulations in the world (over 40MM each) are religious publications from The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Numbers 3 and 4 worldwide, over 20MM each just in the US, are from AARP, a political organization.
I don’t think of Watchtower and AARP as magazine publishers so I ignored them and magazines like them (NRA’s First Freedom, for example) along with online editions of regular magazines and newspaper inserts such as Parade and the WSJ’s outlandish every-now-and-then Magazine.
Counting American circulation only and ignoring Watchtower and AARP, 9 of the top 13 (70%) are more than 75 years old. Two of them, Good Housekeeping and National Geographic, were founded in the 1880s! The oldest magazine in the top 100 is Popular Science which has been around since 1872. Vogue is only 20 years younger.
Wired is way down the list but its numbers would be good enough to make it #2 if it was in Russia and #3 in India.
Worldwide, there are some real oddities. In Russia, for instance, nearly all the top magazines have familiar English names: National Geographic, Cosmopolitan, Playboy, Vogue and so on. Sweden, at first glance, seems to have a lot of magazines with decent circ numbers, but about half of them are put out by associations or unions.
There are at least three obvious lessons here. One: The death notice for print is, apparently, premature. Two: Content matters. Three: Brand names matter, but not without great content. Combined, brand name and content are very powerful.
Digging deeper, actually reading magazines, you sense a subtler lesson.
Most advertising in print, except in women’s magazines, is just bad: blind headlines, weak fonts, reverse type or type on tone (unreadable).
There’s an opportunity here for smart companies with sharp ad agencies.