AD AGE DATAPLACE: AD AGE 300: THE ANNUAL COUNTDOWN

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No rain dared to dampen the magazine parade in 1996.

The industry's steady march toward new heights produced a 3.1% growth in ad pages last year. When combined with an average 8.9% growth in ad rates, it pushed up gross ad dollars by 9.6%, according to returns of magazines in the eighth annual Ad Age 300.

PAGES CONTINUE UP

Clear skies continue straight into this year. Through April, ad pages for consumer magazines have increased 4.2%, and ad revenues have advanced 11.2%, according to Publishers Information Bureau, whose 220 monitored publications populate the Ad Age 300.

Ad page growth has been part of a continuum since 1993, when the 300 hit a decade-low 0.6% growth. Since then, the group has marked increases of 3.7% in '94 and 4.5% in '95.

Last year's 3.1% growth at yearend came despite a 3.2% decline in the first four months among the consumer magazines on the list, according to PIB.

The PIB count for this year is even more impressive given that the 219 consumer magazines among the 300 showed the least-impressive growth for the year, up only 0.5% in ad pages. They did produce an impressive 9.2% uptick in gross ad revenue, however.

BUSINESS GOOD

The 81 business publications in the 300-the trade press plus health and computer magazines that account for just under half the 300's ad pages-pushed the ad-page pace.

Collective growth was 6%, and they pumped 10.8% more ad dollars into the publications, according to the report that ranks magazines by the sum of their gross revenues from both circulation and advertising.

Circulation contributed $8.6 billion and advertising $15.2 billion to the 300's gross revenue of $23.8 billion, up 6.8%. The circulation volume, accounting for 36% of the total, increased only 2.7%-all of that coming on the subscription side.

Subscription revenue grew 4% to $6.14 billion; newsstand sales slipped 0.4% to $2.5 billion. That statistic could hardly have unnerved publishers, because it shows active conversion of single-copy sales into more lucrative subs. Newsstand copies sold slipped 2.6% for the 300 as the group advanced 0.3% in sub count.

`TV GUIDE' LEADS THE WAY

TV Guide once again paced all magazines with gross revenue of $1.08 billion, up 0.8%; its ad pages slipped 5.9% and ad revenue fell 1%. A 20-cent increase in its single-copy price and a $2.60 boost in subscription price last fall carried TV Guide into the growth column.

TV Guide dropped slightly in average paid circulation to 13,013,938 (down 1.2%), a measure of 4,058,548 in newsstand sales (down 9.7%) and 8,955,390 in paid subscribers (up 3.2%).

Time Warner's triple threat of People, Sports Illustrated and Time followed TV Guide in that order. People could wrest the revenue crown from TV Guide next year should both magazines match their '96 performances.

If powered by a similar 13.2% advance in gross income in '97 as '96, People could become the nation's second $1 billion publication by the end of this year. The magazine was heavily influenced by a 20.1% growth in ad revenue. Its ad revenue in the first four months of '97 is up 3.6% on ad pages, which were flat, according to PIB.

Growth for '96 was similar at sister publication Sports Illustrated, whose 12.9% advance in total revenue was enhanced by 19.8% growth in ad revenue. Last year, Time matched its 1994-'95 ad revenue growth of 8.7% although its ad page movement was more subdued than in the previous year.

These top four publications led off the newsweeklies category, the leading category among the 300 with total revenue of $4.7 billion, about $2.7 billion of that from advertising. Pages were up 5.5% in the category and ad revenue gained 13%.

SUBS SET DIRECTION

Subscription hikes carried the category's nearly $2 billion in circulation revenue, up 3.8%, as revenues from subscriptions pulled $1.48 billion, up 5.9%; revenues from single-copy sales slipped 1.9% to $517.6 million.

Women's magazines led all consumer categories in ad pages at 28,945, up 2.9%, abetted by 32 entries, largest in a consumer category. The category grew in every revenue measurement. Woman's Day passed Good Housekeeping as revenue champ in the segment.

Women's magazines didn't draw strong support from the five Seven Sisters residing in the category. Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's and Woman's Day, accounting for nearly one in four of the category's pages, were down a combined 6.5% in pages and 2.7% in ad revenues to $839.5 million in '96.

Family Circle and Woman's Day recorded ad revenue growth of 7% or more, and Family Circle came away with a remarkable 11.6% growth in paid subscribers, as the other magazines remained flat to declining.

Category member Marie Claire, a Hearst Corp./Comary venture in its second full year on the market, is the hottest consumer magazine by ad revenue growth (up 124.3%). In the 300 ranking, it beat out InStyle-at 104.5%. Both rank second and third, respectively, in ad page growth to George (94.8%). George is the only magazine of the 300 that Standard Rate & Data Service classifies as political/social. SRDS classifications are used to group the magazines in this report.

Reader's Digest paced the general editorial, the second-largest class in number at 25. Its total revenue, accounting for just under 20% of category, grew a modest 2.6% to $543.6 million, driven by an 8% growth in ad revenue to $201.6 million despite a 2.6% decline in ad pages. Circulation revenue on the other hand slipped 0.3% to $324 million.

The category mimicked Reader's Digest except for a slight upward blip in circulation revenue.

Hearst Corp.'s Town & Country was the top performer in general editorial, its ad revenue up 45% to $41.7 million on pages of 1,205.11, up 40%.

SERVICE GAINS ACROSS BOARD

Home service and home category, so-called shelter books and fourth-largest among consumer magazines, grew in all measurements.

Seven Sister Better Homes & Gardens hit $474.7 million in total revenue, up 16.8%, to claim volume leadership in the category. It showed growth in virtually all areas except single-copy sales, down 6%, which also produced a newsstand revenue shortfall of 6%.

Martha Stewart Living is the hot magazine among the shelter books: Ad revenue of $65.6 million was up 97.1% on ad pages of 855.43, up 42.9%. Total paid circulation by year-end hit 2,025,182, up 39.7%, as paid circ's portion of that hit 1,701,676, up 47.4%.

The computer/Internet category, a separate grouping among the 300, is chasing down the newsweeklies for ad volume leadership. The group contributed $2.58 billion to the 300 revenue pot, up 9%, with 87% of the total coming from advertising. Pages among ad-rich computer magazines hit 87,463, up 0.9%.

Computer leader PC Magazine, unlike most others in the category, slipped in ad revenue, down 3.9% to $318 million on an 8.5% decline in ad pages. Growth in circulation revenue at the Ziff-Davis publication still left the publication down 2.5% in total revenue at $381.6 million.

HARD BATTLE

There are many internecine battles going on within the 31-member computer category. Windows Sources at Ziff-Davis, half the size of CMP Media's Windows, cut ad rates 60% going into 1996 to maintain the flow of ad pages.

Ad pages indeed grew 16%, but there was a tradeoff: gross ad revenue plunged 43%.

Windows kept to its 27.5% ad rate increase for the year and suffered an 18% decline in ad pages, although its gross ad revenues grew 5.3%.

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