Top child-rearing titles in dead heat

By Published on .

An early peek at year-end ad page data suggests a significant shift in the parenthood category.

The two heavyweights of the space, Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Parents and Time Inc.'s Parenting, have wrestled to a virtual draw, according to Media Industry Newsletter calculations, with Parenting ending the year at 1,466.1 pages and Parents ending the year at 1,466.5. This marks a major step forward for Parenting, which last year trailed Parents in the year-end ad page derby by over 250 pages.

There are some caveats. Parenting increased its frequency by one issue in 2004, which is always good for an ad page jolt. And an analysis of Parenting's ad pages reveals that its No. 2 advertiser is parent company Time Warner, accounting for 60.9 ad pages through November. (Parents ran just three Time Warner ad pages in the same period, according to Publishers Information Bureau data.) A Parenting spokeswoman said the company paid "a significant amount of money" for Time Warner ads: "It's not like we're giving [pages] away."

Such caveats may cheer executives at G&J, since Parents is its sole category leader. Given the tumult at that company in recent years-circulation overstatements, management changes, the demise of Rosie and HomeStyle and the decision to sell-and-shutter teen title YM-it can ill-afford a weakening in the competitive position of Parents. (The No. 3 ad-page player in the category remains G&J's Child, which continues to show ad page growth, albeit not at its previously-torrid pace.)

`mommmm'

Still, the ad-page results come 19 months after Parenting won a surprise General Excellence National Magazine Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors. It's also repositioned. Company executives' explanation of said repositioning leans heavy on a mantra-like invocation of the word "mom"-as in, "focus on the mommm." Prematurely or not, Parenting partisans are all but declaring victory, and excitedly prepping a rework of its Baby Talk.

"We unseated a 87-year-old category leader," exults Parenting President David Kieselstein. "This is Avis passing Hertz!"

Even over the phone, you can practically hear Jan Studin, publisher of Parents, rolling her eyes at such talk. "They added an additional issue. That typically brings pages," she says, and then touts significant ad-page growth last year at Parents in categories ranging from cosmetics to automotive. (Through November, according to Publishers Information Bureau, Parents' ad pages were down 6.7%.)

Parenting and Parents boast combined paid and non-paid circulation of 2.2 million. And a survey of media buyers finds no apparent consensus. "Each has its own advantage," assesses Eric Blankfein, senior VP-director of channel planning, Horizon Media, New York. "It comes down to price when the two are being measured and weighed." But Brenda White, director-print investment, Starcom USA, Chicago, says while "I wouldn't say one is stronger than the other ... the for-me tone [of Parenting] is coming through."

Parenting will now try to do that for smaller sibling Baby Talk, which will now target "the expecting new mom," Kieselstein says. This implies it will now challenge Meredith's relatively new acquisition American Baby, although Susan Baron, the Meredith senior VP who oversees American Baby, sounds underwhelmed. "We are the leader among expectant and new moms," Baron says.

Further moving and shaking in the category will come courtesy of Disney Publishing, which will bolster its parenting title Family Fun with early-learning title Wondertime, which will target the parents of zero-to-6-year-olds, says Glenn Rosenbloom, Disney's consumer magazine group senior VP. G&J's Child, meanwhile, is the title most likely to be challenged by Fairchild Publications' potential launch of upscale parenting title Cookie, which is undergoing circulation tests.

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