Business magazines, hurt by continued erosion in ad revenue from computer magazines, tightened the lid on overall revenue growth by advancing only 0.7%, compared with a 4.3% uptick in 1998.
Even better consumer magazine returns are in the offing if ad growth recorded so far in 2000 can carry through the year. Ad revenue is up 14.6% in the first four months, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Although auto spending is down 5.3% from depressed levels in 1998, key categories -- retail, media/advertising, financial/insurance/real estate and technology -- registering 20%-plus growth.
On the other hand, computer magazines, the dominating force among business publications, continue to languish. The top 10 computer publications rose only 1.1% in ad revenue in the first quarter. One of their number, the hot Industry Standard, skewed results; without it, the group registers a 6.7% decline in ad revenue, according to Adscope.
In this 11th annual report of the Ad Age 300 -- a compendium of 211 consumer and 89 business magazines -- revenue rose to $29 billion, with advertising contributing $19.9 billion of the total, up 9.6%, and circulation $9.1 billion, up 2.2%.
The defining leap over 1998 levels came from the ad side of consumer weeklies. Their ad pages rose 9.1% compared with a 3.2% decline in 1998; ad revenue advanced 12.2% compared with only 2.7% growth in 1998. A 6% growth in ad page rates abetted the cause.
Time and Business Week were good reasons weeklies fared so well. Time's gross revenue grew 18.2% compared with 1% in 1998 and Business Week grew 19.9% in gross revenue vs. 9.8%. Performance of leading magazine TV Guide wasn't sterling, but it didn't depress the numbers as it has in the past.
CLOSE RACE FOR NO. 1
TV Guide's $1.17 billion in gross revenue can be credited to an 8.7% growth in ad pages playing off a reduction in its ad rate of 11.9% (for a onetime b&w ad). But it may be setting itself up to be overtaken by No. 2 People at $1.16 billion.
TV Guide ratcheted down its rates another 1.9% this year, although its subscription price increased $2 on declining circulation. People seems in no rush to power past TV Guide. Its ad pages were down 0.7% and ad revenue off 1.8% in the first quarter, according to PIB.
Consumer monthlies last year came close to matching 1998 returns. This group of 138 magazines, the bulwark of the Ad Age 300, reached $12.4 billion in gross revenue, up 7.6%, similar to their 7.9% growth in 1998. Ad revenue reached $8.1 billion, up 10.9% vs. 11.1% in 1998; ad pages advanced 1.9% (4.2% in 1998) on an average rate hike of 8.8% (7.3% in 1998).
Consumer pubs above $90 million in gross revenue that beat the average growth were Maxim, up 177.2%, InStyle, 51.1%, Bon Appetit, 31%, Ebony, 25.1%, Vogue, 17.5%, Golf Magazine, 17.2%, and Martha Stewart Living, 14.3%.
Reader's Digest was the largest monthly to drop in gross revenue, down 3.5%. On the ad side, RD declined 3.6% despite a 4.4% cut in its ad rate. Circulation revenue fell 3.4% as paid subs fell 8.7% and the price for a subscription rose $1.30.
The year couldn't have been more rewarding to publishers of consumer business magazines, Business Week, Fortune and Forbes. This triumvirate claimed Nos. 10, 11, 12, respectively, by gross revenue. In ad revenue, Fortune rose 28.1%, BW 22.6%, and Forbes 20.9%. Only Entertainment Weekly (up 23.9%) among consumer magazine ad leaders could match these pubs in ad growth.
Circulation returns among consumer magazines don't match the euphoria on the ad side. The Ad Age 300 boosted revenue 2.2% from circulation in 1999 compared with 3.2% growth in 1998.
Among consumer publications, monthlies were up 1.7% in revenue vs. 2.7% growth in the prior year; weeklies grew 1% vs. 1.5% in '98.
Weeklies declined in paid circulation by 1.2% to 98.7 million as subscriptions fell 0.3% to 86.8 million and single-copy sales slipped 7.2%. Monthlies fared slightly better, declining only 0.1% to 178.4 million paid circulation.
Circulation proved a bright spot among business magazines. Monthlies influenced a strong growth in revenue of 7.7% vs. 4.2% in '98 for all business publications. Circulation returns among business pubs represented about 13% of their overall revenue; among consumer publications, circulation accounted for 24% of total revenue.
Several deaths/retreats were felt in the Ad Age 300 last year. Hachette Filipacchi Magazines pulled the plug on Audio and Mirabella, the latter after its June/July issue due to lackluster ad support.
Life, founded in 1936, remains precariously on the list. Time Warner folded it in May but is reluctant to shed the venerable brand name and will publish special issues, books and launch a web-based business bearing its name.
Details remains on the list although Conde Nast Publications stopped publishing it in May and shifted it to parent Advance Publications' Fairchild Publications division. Fairchild will shift its focus from a men's magazine to a men's fashion publication and cut the rate base from 550,000 to 400,000 with the October relaunch of the new glossy, oversized Details.
Several titles changed names recently. Ziff Davis Media's eWeek was formerly PC Week and Ziff-Davis Smart Business for the New Economy supplanted PC Computing. Both moves calculate the change from the old to the new Internet-enhanced economy and join the genre of Internet-related magazines presently luring dot-com and consumer advertising (see story on Page S-18).
This hot business genre populated with such magazines as Industry Standard is likely to become a feeder to future Ad Age 300 reports. Next year, look for eCompany Now, launched this May in the category by Time Warner's Fortune.