NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Finally, a little ray of sunlight in the publishing world. Monthly magazine ad pages inched up in July, building on momentum started in the second quarter.
Monthlies as a whole ran 0.2% more ad pages in their issues from January through July than they did in the comparable seven months in 2009, according to new numbers last week from the Media Industry Newsletter. Thanks to a bleak first quarter, monthlies' ad pages in the first half had arrived just a little shy, 0.16% short, of their mark in the first half of 2009. But a stronger second quarter led into a July that was up 5.45% over last year's ad pages.
It's unclear what will happen for the rest of the year; the fourth quarter is going to be a big test. And a 0.2% gain over one of the worst years in magazine history isn't exactly cause to start dancing in the streets.
But something is better than nothing.
For their January through July issues (which have closed already), many monthly magazines from some big publishers posted double-digit percentage gains. They include Cond� Nast's Wired, GQ and Vanity Fair; Hearst's Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Popular Mechanics; Time Inc.'s Cooking Light, Essence and Real Simple; and Bonnier's Parenting, Popular Science, Saltwater Sportsman, according to the Media Industry Newsletter.
Other titles showing double-digit gains included Playboy, Scientific American and the newspaper supplement Relish. Smaller improvements showed up at many more titles as well. And weekly magazines, for which figures only go through the week of June 21, are looking better too, with year-to-date double-digit ad page gains at titles including Entertainment Weekly, Life & Style, OK, Star and The Week.
"We're seeing a very steady and consistent recovery," said Michael Clinton, exec VP, CMO and publishing director at Hearst Magazines. "We've had a very strong second quarter, up double digits in ad pages. The third quarter is tracking strong."
Ad buyers said they see marketers returning, too. "We are starting to see things come back," said Carolyn Dubi, senior VP-director for print at Initiative, the big media-buying agency. "We're seeing and hearing rumblings that a number of advertising categories will start to come back and start spending again at healthier levels," she said.
Those categories include automotive, package goods and health care, Ms. Dubi said, plus improved spending from beauty advertisers, who didn't go away in the first place the way other categories did.
"We're seeing real growth in a number of categories," said Kevin White, publisher at Time Inc.'s Real Simple. "Food, beauty, auto, pharma and packaged goods." Advertising related to the home remains a little weaker, on the other hand, Mr. White said.
Worrisome signs still exist
Another print buyer, however, pointed out that there are still worrisome signs in the economy. "Some money is definitely coming back, especially from the financial and luxury spenders," said George Janson, managing partner and director of print at Group M. "I think the consumer package-goods spending has been pretty strong. But I think September will be telling; that's a critical month for a lot of books. And the fourth quarter is a big question mark."
"Joblessness is still high, unemployment is still high, banks aren't lending as much, people aren't buying as many houses," Mr. Janson added. "All of that could catch up, I think."
A new forecast from GroupM, as a matter of fact, predicted last week that magazines would be one of several media to finish 2010 with an overall decline in ad revenue.
"I don't know that the positive momentum we're seeing now is going to carry through to the end of the year," Mr. Janson said. "I hope that it does."
It's a fair question, said Lou Cona, exec VP of the Cond� Nast Media Group, who said his take was "cautiously optimistic."
Bright spots in many categories
"I would say first of all that we are very encouraged because we are seeing traction across not just one or two categories, but multiple categories," Mr. Cona said. Those include consumer electronics, auto, business and financial, retail, apparel, beauty, jewelry and watches, he said.
Weaker categories include pharmaceutical marketing, liquor and household furnishings. But even in the home, things are looking up, according to Mr. Cona. "We've got a long way to come back in household furnishings but it's certainly looking better."
The September issues at Cond� Nast are shaping up strong, he added, partly on the strength of six big integrated programs for which Cond� Nast shot art and created websites.