Vocab Lesson 8: Circulation

Circulation is the average number of copies of each publication issue that are distributed, whether through subscription or newsstand purchases or through other no-cost methods. 

These numbers can range widely:  AARP The Magazine has a circ of 24 million readers; Martha Stewart Living has about 2 million; ReadyMade has about 300,000; while a quarterly literary journal like Tin House has a circ of only 12,000. But a large circulation does not automatically mean success, nor does a small circ mean failure. What matters most is that the magazines are satisfying their readers, no matter how many of them there are. 

What does this have to do with design, you ask? Well...


not a whole lot. But obviously a magazine going to millions will have to think about their design differently than a magazine going to a specialized few thousand. And generally, the larger the circulation, the more pressure there is on cover design and newsstand sales. You'll also need to know this number for any publication you work on if you buy rights-managed stock photography since circulation is a factor in their pricing.

You can find a magazine's circulation in their media kit or advertising materials online. Or you can also find it in their "Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation" (see one from the November 2009 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine below). This is a box or column of typically tiny print found in at least one issue of the year (usually towards the end of the year) that contains info required by the US Postal Service. It's nothing you need to necessarily know, but it can be interesting info to learn. 

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Sometimes, you'll see a magazine claim a certain number as their audience. This is different than circulation in that circulation is the number of physical copies of the magazine, while audience takes into consideration that one copy may have multiple readers. If you want to know more about circulation, the Magazine Publishers of America has a great PDF that explains it in-depth. 

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Want more? Check out our previous Vocab Lessons:

"Vocab Lesson" is a recurring feature on our SPD Student Blog. Tune in every Wednesday for a new word of the week. And if you come across a term you can't quite figure out, email it to us at spdstudentoutreach@gmail.com and we'll define it in a future post.

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