And, as in any good soaking, industry advertising seems to have reached saturation, at least temporarily.
First, ads rained down in 1994, swelling ad pages among the 300 by 3.7% (a rebound from 0.6% growth in '93); then in 1995 ads continued to pour in, pumping up page growth 4.5%. After the deluge, advertising is bent on seeking a lower level this year.
Last year's flood of ad pages, complemented by an average 8% growth in the cost of a b&w ad page for the 300, elevated the group's gross ad revenue take by 11.5%, to $14 billion.
Circulation returns were typically plodding as the 300 advanced 3.4% to $8.5 billion, up from 2.4% growth in '94. At the newsstand, revenues rose 3.9% vs. 0.2% in the prior year; subscription sales increased 3.1% in dollars vs. 3.4% in '94.
Subscription's share of the circulation dollar did not budge from the 70% level of '94, although there was slight movement away from single-copy sales (down 3.7%) to subscriptions, up 0.6%. Overall paid circulation declined 0.1% to 361.3 million copies.
The ranking, a compendium of gross returns from advertising and circulation for 218 consumer magazines and 82 trade publications, ranged from leader TV Guide at $1.07 billion, up 3.1%, to Electronic Products at $15.9 million, up 10.7%.
TV Guide played to '95 trends only on the circulation side. Circulation slipped in both paid subscriber (down 2.8%) and newsstand sales (down 11.9%), although a $4 boost in the sub price helped produce a 2.4% growth in circulation revenue. The Guide's circulation represents about 61% of gross returns. Its advertising was a valley experience; pages slid from 15% growth in '94 to a 1.6% growth in '95.
TV Guide's holding-pattern on advertising presaged the struggles currently infecting the industry: Ad pages were down 3.2% in the first four months of 1996 and ad dollars were up 4.8% (because of rate increases) for the 201 consumer publications monitored by Publishers Information Bureau. Consumer magazines in the 300 pegged their rate increases at an average 8.7% in '96 vs. 7.6% in '95.
Rate increases, part of the solution to sustaining growth, are part of the problem. In many cases, higher rates this year have been accompanied by lower rate bases, a combination that has sent CPMs spiraling upward.
Facing higher CPMs, advertisers have balked. Auto spending has defected from many magazines. The category, magazine's largest, contributed $475.5 million to magazines in the first four months, up 0.2%, but 11.3% fewer ad pages, according to PIB. Category spending rose 22.1% in the same period last year.
Newsweeklies dominate the 300, virtually producing $1 in every $5 gross returns. The nine-member category grew a collective 5% in ad pages. Higher rates elevated ad revenue growth 9.5%. Paid circulation counts were down a collective 2.9%, miring dollar growth in both newsstand sales and subscriptions at just above 1%.
PIB shows that in the first four months of '96 the category slipped 4.1% in ad pages and gained 7.4% in ad revenue, the latter abetted by an average 7.8% growth in ad rates. Keepers of the category flame in this period were Time Warner's People, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly with ad page gains of 17.9%, 6.3% and 14.9%, respectively. The others followed TV Guide's lead: It fell 2.7% in ad pages and 1.8% in ad revenue.
Ad pages for the 33 women's magazines in the 300 grew 2.7% to 28,104, the largest ad page-count of a consumer category. Segment gross revenue advanced 8.7% to $3 billion, with advertising contributing $1.7 billion, up 9%.
Holding court in the magazine class are five of the Seven Sisters-Hearst Corp.'s Good Housekeeping, Hachette Filipacchi's Woman's Day, Meredith Corp.'s Ladies' Home Journal and Bertelsmann's McCall's and Family Circle. They claim 43% of the category's gross revenue.
This subset grew a collective 5.5% in gross revenue in '95. None showed revenue declines although category leader Good Housekeeping, Family Circle and McCall's slipped in ad pages. Three of these sisters increased ad rates an average 5%.
The same five are fighting to tread water in '96. In the first four months, ad pages are down 7.6% and ad revenue, off 1.5%, according to PIB. Ad pages are off 26.7% at Hearst's Good Housekeeping and 18.8% at Redbook. Hearst, to be sure, predicted its bold initiative that pushed rates 5% and lowered rate bases 10% last November would scare off some advertisers.
The sisterhood's Better Homes & Gardens from Meredith and Redbook are leaders in the 300's home service and fashion categories.
The 300 is awash with computer magazines-27.
This year, unlike their consumer brethren, advertising in all computer magazines is up 6% although ad pages are down 1%, according to first-quarter data for 216 computer magazines monitored by AdScope.
The 300's business computer class doesn't include all the computer magazines. Family PC, the Walt Disney Co./Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. venture, and Ziff-Davis' Computer Life are consumer titles, the former rising a phenomenal 253.4% in gross revenue in '95.