NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Monthly magazines' latest quarterly drop in ad pages, the ninth consecutive quarter of year-over-year declines, wasn't exactly a surprise, but it wasn't all bad news either.
Monthlies' ad pages declined 5.7% from the first quarter of 2009, according to the Media Industry Newsletter, not the same as a gain but a much smaller loss than the double-digit plunges that have been seen since the third quarter of 2008.
"It's the smallest decline of the last couple of years," said Kathleen Brogan, print director at Carat. "As the year goes on there will probably be more titles that fold but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The strongest titles, that meet not only advertiser but reader demand, will stay strong throughout the year."
"I feel like everything we hear about magazines is always negative, but I don't think that's necessarily the case," Ms. Brogan added. "Brands change strategies but for the most part print is a staple. Readers are still there, readers still want their magazines and advertisers will pay to reach those people."
Magazines aren't alone in their pain, of course, and one recent forecast predicted ad spending across all media would decline again in the first quarter before finally rebounding modestly to end the year nearly flat.
But the challenges facing the magazine industry beyond the economy also mean some titles probably won't ever see their pre-recession pages return. And year-over-year comparisons are getting easier as a result of all the declines that came before. The first quarter numbers now being examined, for example, are being compared against the first quarter of 2009, an abysmal period in which ad pages plunged 21.5%. Monthly magazines' ad pages started falling in the first quarter of 2008.
Ad pages fell in 94 monthlies this quarter and grew in 59, according to the newsletter's count. Titles with double-digit percentage losses included Black Enterprise, Coastal Living, Men's Fitness, National Geographic, Running Times, Veranda and W. Double-digit gains, however, were posted by titles including Every Day with Rachael Ray, Fitness, In Style, Lucky, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Teen Vogue.
"I feel in a certain sense that we've begun to crack the code on the idea of integration and platform-agnostic kinds of things," said Laura McEwen, VP-publisher at Teen Vogue, where ad pages shot up 23.3%. "We have Teen Vogue, TeenVogue.com, the Teen Vogue Haute Spot iPhone application and we have our store, a live opportunity to connect with our readership. We are working to do a deep dive with each client into a large scale program. That in a very simple way is what's helping out business."
Magazines as a whole might see a positive year but should keep expectations in check, Ms. McEwen said, predicting perhaps 2% to 4% ad-page growth across the industry in 2010. "I think it's a conservative recovery," she said.