New ABC report on six-month circ shows mixed bag

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The outlook for magazine publishers, while still cloudy, showed some bright spots in the Audit Bureau of Circulations' Fas-Fax report released last week.

Of the top 100 magazines ranked by circulation, 54 showed gains for the first half of 2000 over last year's figures. Losses occurred disproportionately among the largest titles, with only three in the top 10 -- Modern Maturity, Better Homes & Gardens and Woman's Day -- showing gains.

While perennial top 10 title Family Circle's figures do not appear in the ABC report, the magazine said its circulation was flat at just more than 5 million.

The big loser among the largest magazines was TV Guide, down 8.2%. Dick Porter, exec VP-general manager of TV Guide media sales, said the title was "a growing brand" when its other platforms -- among them TV Guide Channel and interactive guides built into new TVs and set-top cable boxes -- were factored in.


Among men's titles, Maxim broke the 2 million mark for the first time with a whopping 87.1% gain; Men's Health dropped 1%; and Playboy and Penthouse fell 7.3% and 13.2%, respectively. Playboy's decline left its results beneath its rate base of 3,150,000 by more than 100,000.

Alex Maronovich, president of Playboy International's publishing division, said he expected the second half of 2000 to be better.

"Contrast [Playboy] with Maxim," said Gene DeWitt, CEO of Optimedia International. "You know, `The king is dead, long live the king.' "

The biggest overall gainer was Red Herring, which notched a 109.1% increase in paid circ to 243,695.

(Ad Age reports non-paid circulation as audited by BPA International alongside ABC's paid figures, but BPA's audit won't be available until later this month.)

Steve Colvin, U.S. president of Maxim parent Dennis Publications, said Maxim will announce a rate base hike, possibly as soon as this week.

Fast Company's circulation shot up 64.8%, and Marie Claire's went up 3.9%, thanks to an 8.1% increase in single-copy sales.

George, GQ and ESPN the Magazine saw overall numbers up 13.8%, 16.9% and 27.2%, but single-copy figures down 8.1%, 5.6% and 30.9%.

Big gainers across subscription- and single-copy sales included Health and women's titles More and Mode, with respective overall gains of 28.1%, 39.7% and 23.1%.

Overall, Conde Nast Publications -- which reported aggregate results across its 17 magazines for this period -- grew circulation 2.9%. Individual titles' results ranged from GQ's double-digit growth and other strong showings at Bon Appetit, Bride's, Allure and Self, all with high single-digit increases, to drops of 9.4% at House & Garden and 6.3% at Wired. At Conde Nast-owned Fairchild Publications, W's circulation went up 5.6% and Jane's rose 9.9%.

Over at Hearst Magazines, bright spots like CosmoGirl and its joint venture with Harpo Entertainment, O, the Oprah Magazine, have yet to show up in Fas-Fax. Redbook's drop of 16.5% reflected a rate base change aimed at overcoming the title's reliance on stampsheets for new subscribers, said Publisher Jayne Jamison. Cosmopolitan dropped 5.9%, but Optimedia's Mr. DeWitt dismissed a decline as mere "static" for such a large magazine.

Given the current circulation conditions, such declines may become commonplace. But not all media buyers are worried.

"You're seeing a long-term trend of managing rate bases very close to their guarantees," said David Verklin, CEO of Carat North America "And guys like me applaud," he said, "because guys like me want the most purity" in magazine demographics.

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