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By The Numbers: Understanding Magazine Circulation/Sales Statistics

There are many regulations governing the calculation and reporting of circulation and sales figures in the magazine publishing industry. The rules were established long before the advent of digital editions, so until the industry catches up with new technology, digital publishers have to work around the guidelines currently in place. This sometimes creates confusion, and it is often difficult to ascertain actual numbers.

It goes without saying that changes are taking place in digital edition sales, and Next Steps Marketing ( has discovered some interesting trends, which will be presented in their 4th Digital Dashboard, coming soon. An interesting finding concerns sponsored subscriptions. In a nutshell, sponsored subscriptions are a sales category. Per Next Step Marketing, “Sponsored subscriptions are those that are sold for at least $.01 a piece to individuals or in bulk. Often the buyers of these subs are companies that are “sponsoring” the sale to their client or employee or customer.”

A more official description of sponsored subscriptions can be found in Chapter F: Article 2, 2.1 of the rules and bylaws of the Alliance for Audited Media. “(a) All copies or subscriptions purchased in quantities of 11 or more, which in the opinion of the managing director promote the professional or business interests of the purchaser, and are delivered to private residences or business offices and intended for the personal consumption of the addressee, shall be considered sponsored subscriptions or single-copy sales and shall be reported in Publisher’s Statements and Audit Reports…”

The AAM is a non-profit organization located in Arlington Heights, Illinois, that governs North American media companies, advertisers and ad agencies by laws and rules.

A few of the interesting trends that Next Steps has discovered concern how specific magazines sell sponsored subscriptions or not. It appears that they do either one or the other, but typically not both. For those titles that do sell sponsored, these sales are increasing substantially and they make up a very large part of the total numbers of paid subscriptions. This is significant because sponsored subscriptions do not provide revenue; they are used solely as numbers to calculate rate base, which is simply a number used to compute advertising rates, as the number of subscribers to a publication.

The numbers concerning Single Copy sales are really interesting. Per the Digital Dashboard, they are showing a 126% increase over the last six months, and an increase of 171% over a year ago. That means that single copy sales now make up almost 12% of total sales for these titles, up from 5.7%. That is movement in the right direction!

Even though making sense out of complicated regulations and figuring out which statistics are truly important can be confusing, there are a few benchmark numbers that are very important for digital publishers to understand. With our built-in analytics and statistics interface, we can help you get your digital publication where it should be. Ask us how.

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