NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Magazines are ending the year on a sour note, with major layoffs at publishers from Time Inc. to Conde Nast to Forbes, but the holidays are delivering at least one present everyone wanted: ad pages.
"Advertisers still aren't going deep, but they're definitely spending more than they had been in the first few quarters of the year," said Steve Sachs, president of the lifestyle division at Time Inc., where the December issues of Real Simple, Cooking Light and Southern Living will all run significantly more ad pages this year than last. "Advertisers in the fourth quarter are saying 'We're releasing money that has been planned,' unlike in the past when they cut it."
Conde Nast's Glamour is coming in 5% over last year, said Bill Wackermann, senior VP-publishing director. "That was the first time the clouds parted and we could really say we were up significantly," Mr. Wackermann said.
Wired, another Conde title, is posting a much smaller decline in December, compared with the December 2008 issue, said Howard Mittman, publisher. Advertisers returning to Wired after staying out all year include American Express, Verizon and Abu Dhabi. "They've been dormant throughout the course of the year, but they're starting to turn on the faucets," he said.
"We are definitely starting to see some wonderful bright spots," said Janet Balis, exec VP-media sales and marketing at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. "In the November issue of Martha Stewart Living, paging was down less than 5% year over year, in a year when prior issues were substantially more challenged."
Smaller declines are nearly as welcome as outright gains in this difficult year; magazine ad pages in the first three quarters fell 27.2% short of their level in the first three quarters of 2008, according to the Publishers Bureau of Information.
Many publishers attributed some of the improvements to particular efforts at their titles, from creative services to "revamped" ad sales teams. "A lot of our success is definitely being driven by the custom approach to creative," Ms. Balis said. "When you see the December issue you'll see many of the advertising executions were driven by our creative team." The December issue of Martha Stewart Living includes a triple cover with inside cover ads from Garnier Nutritioniste.
Hearst's Cosmopolitan, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire and O, The Oprah Magazine are all posting bigger issues in December, a spokeswoman said.
Don't necessarily expect a stronger end of 2009 to translate into a strong start to 2010, publishers cautioned.
"December was terrific, as I heard it was for many magazines," said Carol Smith, senior VP-chief brand officer at Elle, part of Hachette Filipacchi. "I believe it's largely a result of extra year-end budget money -- that is, companies that spent conservatively throughout the year had some leftover dollars to invest."
"I think people are going to wait and see how the fourth quarter goes," said Mr. Wackermann. "The first quarter of 2010 will see some trepidation in the market."
For now, though, let's enjoy a spot of sun.