Magazines Finish Flat, but Hope for Better First Quarter

'Maxim,' Others Report Increases for Early '07 as Luxury Brands Buy Space

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The year that started off slowly then turned in a series of quarters flat in ad pages is ... ending flat, essentially repeating 2005. That's the discouraging macro view for anyone looking for overall growth in the consumer-magazine business. But next year beckons, and already some publishers are saying the first quarter will easily beat the torpid beginning of 2006.
Titles in the new 'up.'
Titles in the new 'up.'

It just depends on your perspective. Those a little worried about 2007 say "It's too early to comment." And as Maxim Group Publisher Robert F. Gregory joked about 2006, "Flat is the new up." Books in that "new up" class range from National Geographic to Meredith's More, Family Circle and Parents to Time Inc.'s InStyle and Essence to Conde Nast Publications' Architectural Digest.

No saviors from Detroit
The granular view shows more. Plenty of magazines would take wings from a Detroit comeback -- only it's not happening, at least not broadly and not early next year. Those that added fashion coverage this year to lure more luxury ads, a category that performed strongly for many, are counting on a payoff -- which looks likely to come. And everyone was clear that digital and other revenue is growing fast.

Take Dennis Publishing's' Maxim, down 5% in pages this year on declines in automotive, entertainment, fashion and gaming. "As for our ad pages in 2006, that's a little like a doctor evaluating the health of a patient by only checking his temperature, but not his blood pressure, heart rate, et cetera," Mr. Gregory said. "There are other vital signs for a brand as diverse as Maxim: online, which was up 50% in 2006, mobile, satellite, radio, bricks-and-mortar extensions." Maxim's January issue, not incidentally, closed up 10%, and February looks headed for a 25% gain.

Or look at some of the Time4Media magazines that Time Inc. is trying to sell. Despite a strong fourth quarter, the Time4 books being sold collectively lost 5% of their ad pages this year. Ski ad pages lost 9.7%, for example, while Skiing dropped 11%, Field & Stream sank 13% and Outdoor Life fell almost 15%. All is not lost; the Transworld enthusiast books thankfully held flat and the losses at the ski titles were offset by gains in events, film sponsorship and online ad revenue. What's better, the fourth-quarter momentum is showing legs in the first quarter of 2007.

2007 crucial for some
But for in-the-book ad pages, 2007 is shaping up to be crucial for some. That list includes Conde Nast Publications' Jane, which is down 20% for the year but has closed a February issue up 38% and anticipates a March increase well above 10%. Conde's Vanity Fair finished down 6.7% -- and says it's premature to talk 2007. As a weekly, it's less clear how The New Yorker will finish out the year, but its pages were down almost 14% through October, prompting lots of speculation about the longevity of VP-publisher Louis Cona.

Luxury titles dependent on watch or jewlery ads fared well in 2006. American Express Publishing expanded fashion pages by 9% and jewelry by 9%.

Nina Lawrence, VP-publisher at Conde's W is confident 2007's first quarter will beat 2006's. "The rich are getting richer and there are more of them," she said.
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