AD AGE 300;THE ANNUAL COUNTDOWN

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When it rains it pours. The magazine world took a literal view of this maxim the last two years, given information in this seventh-annual Ad Age 300 report.

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

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.

WOMEN'S MAGAZINES

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.

COMPUTER MAGAZINES

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.

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