Things could be worse in a fragmenting market. "Based on pages alone, and not counting other sources of revenue, magazines' holding their own may put them in a relatively strong position," said Ellen Oppenheim, exec VP-chief marketing officer, Magazine Publishers of America.
Apparently limited demand
But beneath the placid top line, publishers spent the half scrambling for pages in the face of apparently limited demand.
Although everyone's banking on domestic-car launches to bring automotive back up in the second half, Detroit page buys fell across the board and dragged total automotive pages down 15.2% through May, according to the Publishers' Information Bureau.
"We knew automotive would be down," said Sue Katzen, associate publisher-advertising, Hearst Magazines' Cosmopolitan, where auto overall fell 50%. "I don't think we knew how quickly it would drop." For the first six months, Cosmo's pages are up about 2%, Ms. Katzen said, partly on the strength of apparel pages that rose 30% over last year's first half.
Apparel and accessories, up just 0.4% through May, were actually sources of strength for many titles, including Wenner Media's Us Weekly and American Media's Star, which reported an influx of fashion ads; Hearst's Esquire, where eyewear and watches "exploded," according to VP-Publisher Kevin O'Malley; Conde Nast Publications' Glamour; and Elle from Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.
Buying fancy handbags
"The great news is that gas prices might be going up but everyone's buying a Chloe bag," said Carol A. Smith, Elle's senior VP-group publishing director.
The biggest gainer through May was drugs and remedies, which rose 14.1%. Pharmaceutical pages were flat, however, in mainstay venues like Rodale's Prevention. "We have had to overcome some challenges with some brands going off-patent, but other brands coming in have made that up," said Bob Ziltz, VP-publisher.
Counting ad pages doesn't reveal revenue, which is probably up slightly, much less publishers' costs, which are definitely rising. Nor does it credit publishers who collect extra dollars by packaging digital offerings with pages.
And publishers are well aware that even though print ads still bring in more money than web ads, advertisers love the internet's growth story. "You're gonna get growth in print, and it's going to be single-digit growth, and that's not enough," said Mark Ford, president-publisher, Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated, which turned in a flat first half by pages. "Print is still an important part of the equation, but you've got to offer other channels. We see big, double-digit 30% growth on digital over the long haul."