If you’re looking for evidence of how much trouble the traditional magazine format – in print or digital – is in, you need look no further than the latest set of circulation figures from the ABC.

Today’s figures reveals that total print circulation at seven major publishers – Future, Dennis, Condé Nast, Bauer, Immediate, Hearst UK, and IPC – for all the titles they submit to the ABC, fell 4.83 percent from 12.65 million to 12.04 million.

The biggest drop in print circulation was at Future, which submits one title to be audited by the ABC this June – Total Film – which dropped 23 percent year-on-year from 60,912 copies sold in June 2013 to 46,912 in June this year.

Print sales dropped 9.9 percent at Bauer Media, which submits 14 titles to ABC, from 1,162,908 in June 2013 to 1,488,838 in June 2014.

abc total print circulation june 2014 2013 consumer mag

Meanwhile on the digital side of things, digital circulation for digital editions – those deemed similar enough to their print counterparts – actually fell at three of the publishers: Dennis, Hearst, and Condé Nast.

At Dennis, digital circulation for the 8 digital titles it submits to ABC decreased 38.5 percent from 10,846 to 6,665 from June 2013 to June this year. 

At Hearst the equivalent figure fell 17 percent from 52,017 to 43,149 across the 15 titles it has ABC digital certificated for.

And at Condé Nast digital circulation across the nine titles it submits to ABC fell 3.1 percent from 48,313 to 46,805.

At Future, Immediate, and IPC, digital circulation increased 14.7, 31.6 and 57 percent, respectively across a single title for Future, 26 titles for Immediate, and 25 titles for IPC – though none of these were reporting anywhere near as many digital editions to the ABC as Hearst or Condé Nast.

digital circulation abc june 2014 2013

print and digital circulation change june 2014 june 2013 abc magazines consumer

The ABC is promoting the growth in digital editions across all consumer magazine publishers, announcing that:

“Digital editions were first introduced to the ABC Consumer Magazines Report in 2011 and have grown significantly since then. In each subsequent Consumer Magazine Report we see more publishers reporting Digital Editions, with ever-increasing circulation figures.”

While that’s all true, there’s a little more context to the infographic ABC released with the consumer magazines report on digital edition circulation growth:

digital edition growth abc infographic

If we chart this a different way, and look at percentage growth, its evident that the growth rate from 2011 to 2012 was enormous – nearly a 2,000 percent increase in the number of digital editions sold. That growth rate plummets from 2012 to 2013 however, down to 64.4 percent, and decreased last year even further, to just over 25 percent. 

abc digital edition percentage growth magazines 2

Yes that means digital edition circulation is still growing, but that growth is slowing down – yet more evidence digital editions as they are currently conceived are not the saviour of the magazine business.

These figures don’t show the full figure, both because some publications won’t be submitted to the ABC, and because digital editions and digital publications – those digital titles that aren’t so similar to their print versions – are counted separately.

That’s in part because of the restrictive rules ABC place on what constitutes a digital edition, which means publishers have to work with ABC to get their digital offerings classified as a digital publication, which appears as a separate area in the report.

In this set of figures there were only two digital publications reported – The Week and Attitude Magazine.

The Week managed a total average digital publication circulation of 26,283, while Attitude managed 13,373. Some 61 percent of The Week’s digital publication circulation was sold at below £1 per issue, however.

Nevertheless, Dennis Publishing’s Kerin O’Connor – chief executive of The Week, is happy with the results, but said the digital edition market was slowing:

“I think the business is smoothing out. I don’t think we’ll see the rampant lifts that we saw for the first two years of the iPad because you’re seeing a maturing of a medium. It’s not that surprising to see that kind of thing happen.”

“If you’ve got 50,000 people who are reading you as a monthly magazine then it’s unlikely you’re going to find another 50,000 who will want to read you as a digital one too.”

Same old same new

Overall, the figures suggest publishers are going to have to work a lot harder to sell more digital editions, or rethink what those digital editions should be, if they’re to make up circulation and advertising revenue lost through the continual decline of print.