But six months later, with the hubbub of daily life drowning out casualty reports and the latest warnings of terrorist threats, magazine editors and observers are more likely to say that-at least for those fortunate enough not to be touched personally by Sept. 11's events-it's business as usual. More or less.
"We reacted strongly initially-we thought a sort of warmer, more positive story would sell better," said one high-ranking editor who requested anonymity, but added that thinking soon faded. "I think [Sept. 11's effects] were overblown, except for those it hit directly."
"Generally, the transformation that people wildly predicted hasn't taken place," said Kurt Andersen, ex-editor of New York magazine and co-founder of media-on-media Web site Inside.com. Case in point: The March 11 cover of U.S. News & World Report devoted to designer pets.
The business end, while recovering, lacks such signposts.
Time Inc.'s Time and Washington Post Co.'s Newsweek reported newsstand-sale surges of 80% for the last half of `02. And, according to Time Publisher Ed McCarrick, while demand has moderated, an average Time sells around 200,000 on newsstands, whereas last year at this time it sold closer to 155,000.
But Time's story is not widely shared. A rough consensus of publishers and editors contacted for this article holds newsstand sales slipped overall in October and November of last year before rebounding somewhat.
Circulation woes were not confined to newsstand, as direct-mail solicitations for subscriptions took a big hit from 9/11 and anthrax scares.
"We had a huge mailing with an in-home date of Sept. 11," said John Klingel, VP-global circulation, U.S. magazines, for Reader's Digest Association. "Our response rate was down 50%" when "our response rates might [normally] be off 5% to 10%, and even 10% would be big." Response-rate falloffs stayed as high as 20% to 30% into December. "In terms of impact on consumer behavior," Mr. Klingel said, "9/11 was one of the most devastating we've seen."
Such swings wound a title with 11.9 million subscribers. While saying Reader's Digest could make up for the weak mailing, although at a price, he added the title "hadn't made any decisions" regarding rate base, but that "we and everybody else are re-evaluating what to do at this point."
Through March, the 163 monthly magazines that had ad pages tallied by Media Industry News posted a 12.4% drop vs. 2001. And the 20%-plus declines at leading travel magazines Conde Nast Publications' Conde Nast Traveler and American Express Publishing Corp.'s Travel & Leisure point to the ongoing pullback by its endemic advertisers.
"For April, May and June, we still see the after-effects-it's still a little soft," said Lisa Hughes, publisher of Conde Nast Traveler. The one rueful note of optimism: Ms. Hughes said she was "certain" this year's fourth quarter would be better than 2001's.