Publishers Information Bureau: Mag execs see some stability returning

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There's plenty to leave publishers smarting from Publishers Information Bureau's first-quarter ad-page results, but some top industry executives swear they see dawn after a long, cold night.

"It's definitely turning around," said Steven T. Florio, president-CEO of Conde Nast Publications. "For the first time in 24 months, I'm quite bullish with what I'm seeing, in terms of commitments." (Conde Nast could use it: Through March '02, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, it had the biggest ad page drop-19.3%-among top industry players.)

"We took big hits," said Jerry Kaplan, president of Meredith Corp.'s magazines, referring to the post-Sept. 11 slump that decimated first-quarter results. "Then things started to stabilize, and now are improving in general."

"The economy is still very fragile," said a more subdued Don Logan, chairman-CEO of Time Inc., who said "the decline is about to stop, and then the comparisons begin to get better."

In the first quarter, PIB-audited magazines averaged a 14.1% decline, and many key titles tumbled to distressing depths (AA, April 8).

Forbes fared the worst among traditional business titles with a 43.1% drop and Time Inc.'s Money fell the farthest for personal finance, with a 39.6% decline. The second and third place haute-fashion titles saw severe swoons as well, with Hearst Magazines' Harper's Bazaar falling 24.6% and Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.'s Elle down 30.5%. Tech titles continued to get walloped, with Red Herring posting a stunning drop (78.9%), and Conde Nast Publications' Wired and Ziff Davis Media's Smart Business and Yahoo! Internet Life all off more than 50%.

Health and fitness-related titles showed strength. Rodale's Men's Health saw ad pages rise 12.2% and Weider Publications' Men's Fitness was up 22.8%. Time Inc.'s Health nudged its ad pages up 6.1% and Gruner & Jahr's Fitness was up 35.7%. (Some of these titles were not among the top 100 listed below.)

Despite hints of good news, one executive remained wary. Asked if `02's results would match those of the pre-bubble '99, the executive had a quick response: "I don't think so."

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