Magazines Weigh How to Manage Circulation

Some Add On While Others Pare Down

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Outdoor Life has decided to cut the paid circulation it promises its advertisers by 13.5% this February. It's a move that looks merely prudent amid much more severe retrenchment across the magazine business. But some titles, even mature brands far past their early growth spurts, are still planning to increase their paid circulation next year. As it happens, there are advantages to expanding even in hard times -- like right now.
The coming cut at Outdoor Life will free some money for a redesign, costlier editorial content, an improved website and new marketing activities.
The coming cut at Outdoor Life will free some money for a redesign, costlier editorial content, an improved website and new marketing activities.

The difficulties ahead can provide an opening for magazines to prove their value to advertisers, said Steve DeLuca, VP-publisher of Details, which recently announced plans to expand. "If we can be smart about our approach, show them that our readers spend, I think it's an opportunity to increase market share with our clients," he said. "This is a challenging time, but it's all how you react to it."

Cuts all around
Magazines from Playboy to Reader's Digest were already reducing their rate bases this decade as they struggled with rising costs. This year, however, worsening conditions have pushed magazines to downsize, often in more draconian ways. Diverse titles such as PC Magazine and Skiing made circulation cuts. Hearst shut down Quick & Simple, Hachette killed Home and Conde Nast abandoned Golf for Women. Time Inc. began planning hundreds of layoffs. U.S. News & World Report decided to print only once a month, abandoning even the biweekly schedule it had unveiled with some fanfare just last summer. Cutting rate-base guarantees used to look weak; these days it just looks like a publisher is paying attention.

"What we really look for as buyers is clean circulation," said Kathleen Brogan, associate print director at media agency Carat. Instead of unread copies left around public places or subscribers tempted by a discount more than the magazine itself, she said, advertisers want to pay for engaged readers. "If doing that means you have to reduce your rate base, we kind of applaud that."

"We're going to be seeing this across the board," Ms. Brogan added.

Opportunities for Outdoor Life
The coming cut at Outdoor Life will free some money for a redesign, costlier editorial content, an improved website and new marketing activities, according to Eric Zinczenko, group publisher of the Bonnier Outdoor Group, which includes Outdoor Life and Field & Stream. It will also reduce reader overlap with Field & Stream, making ad buys across the titles more efficient for marketers. "I thought there was an opportunity based on Outdoor Life's position in the marketplace to take some circulation and production savings and reinvest them," said Mr. Zinczenko.

Publishers spend a disproportionate amount of money on that last 10% of circulation, which goes to the least interested readers, he added. "That last 10% are typically readers that don't renew or aren't that responsive to advertisers."

Men's Vogue, on the other hand, was planning to increase its paid circulation guarantee this February to 400,000 from 350,000, a 14% increase. Then the worsening economy prompted Conde Nast to take another look. On Oct. 30 the company reduced the title to a biannual Vogue supplement.
Disney Publishing's Family Fun is also planning to increase its rate base.
Disney Publishing's Family Fun is also planning to increase its rate base.

Details' plan
Elsewhere at Conde, Details magazine still plans to increase rate base to 450,000, nearly a 6% bump, with its first issue next year. It's the first change to the guarantee since 2000. Why now? And how?

The title has been delivering paid circulation of 458,000 despite guaranteeing -- and charging for -- only 425,000, according to Mr. DeLuca. "We've been delivering a bonus and not charging for it," he said.

Disney Publishing's Family Fun is also still planning to increase its rate base, adding 5% in February to reach a guarantee of 2.1 million. "We're still showing growth against next year," explained Aparna Pande, VP-general manager for U.S. consumer magazines at Disney Publishing. "And we're still hitting our budget numbers."

"This is a great time for brands like ours to steal share," said Ms. Pande. "I fully expect that to happen. That will position us well when the economy does recover."
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