APPLAUSE FOR HEARST

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We like the gutsy wager Hearst Magazines is taking by cutting its rate base and asking advertisers and readers to pay more. Whether or not Hearst can make this stick is another matter but, fueled by exploding paper prices and a double-digit postage increase, a move like this by a major magazine publisher has been coming for some time.

Hearst readers are being asked to pay more through higher newsstand and subscription prices while advertisers face a 5% across the board rate hike.

This is a "real value" strategy. Hearst is convinced readers who get real value from titles like Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Cosmopolitan and Esquire will pay more to keep on getting them, and that advertisers will in turn see the value of reaching smaller but obviously committed and involved readerships.

This is a reminder that bigger circulation is not always better. It's also a signal to paper suppliers that some publishers are willing to self-ration their use of high-priced paper-even if it hurts. Big subscription numbers and big newsstand distribution can look like a liability when 50% of the cost of producing a page can be the price of paper and fewer than 50% of newsstand copies are actually sold.

Price has been the driving force for many magazines for some time now, from bargain subscription offers to plump up circulation totals to bargain CPMs to meet advertiser demands for low ad costs. The way out has not been easy. Nor will Hearst's plan be welcomed with open arms by advertisers and agencies.

But if it gets the magazine marketplace thinking about editorial value and committed readerships again, Hearst will have accomplished a lot for itself and the rest of the publishing world.

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