First-half pages slipped 1.9% to 101,959.8, compared to the same period a year ago, according to Publishers Information Bureau.
Publishers are hopeful the Olympics and elections will lead to a second-half windfall.
"We expect the second half to show continued modest gains," said Jim Guthrie, exec VP-marketing development, Magazine Publishers of America.
AUTO DOWN 7.6%
The top category of automotive got off slow and saw ad pages drop 7.6% in the first half to 11,052.
Last year's No. 2 category, direct response, skidded to fifth place overall, with pages down 14.5% to 10,932.03.
That decline hit Sunday magazines hard. Parade is off 23.3% to 304.76 pages, while USA Weekend is off 21.2% to 290.8 pages.
Drugs and remedies registered a 15.8% first-half gain to 4,247.8 ad pages. Cigarette/tobacco pages were up 18.9% to 2,219.7.
`WOMAN'S DAY' HITS 2ND PLACE
For the Seven Sisters women's service books, 1995 category crown leader Woman's Day slipped into second place with 818.6 ad pages, down 4.7%. Good Housekeeping fell 23% to 551.5 pages, tumbling to fifth in the category. The big winner in the category was Better Homes & Gardens, which led the pack with 908.1 pages, up 14.3%.
Better Homes & Gardens Group Publisher Jerry Kaplan is already predicting the Meredith Corp. flagship will be wearing the category's ad page crown at yearend.
"We're going to be No. 1 unless there is some disaster that we don't see," Mr. Kaplan said. "It's coming across the board: pharmaceutical, food, autos and home furnishings."
Of the top 10 consumer magazines, seven saw ad pages tumble in the first six months. Despite a 5.5% drop, PC Magazine was the leader with 2,924.36 ad pages.
Hot books through the first half include InStyle, up 47.2%; Martha Stewart Living, up 35.1%; Saveur, up 33.2%; Net Guide. up 32.4%; and Fitness, up 30.6%.M
Contributing: Jane Hodges.