BOB VILA TRIES TO BUILD NICHE IN MAGAZINE WORLD;HEARST TO TEST ISSUE OF NEW SHELTER BOOK; SEARS WILL PLAY BIG ROLE IN EFFORT

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With the shelter magazine category standing on a strong foundation, Hearst Magazines Enterprises is launching Bob Vila's American Home with a test issue Sept. 17 that will carry 30 ad pages.

Hearst is basing its new launch on the star of the A&E Network series "Bob Vila's Home Again." Mr. Vila said he will have an advisory role in the magazine's editorial content and will appear on at least the first issue's cover.

"We haven't decided if my mug will appear on every issue, but there will be a lot of cross-promotions with the TV show, I hope," Mr. Vila said.

20,000 COPIES THROUGH SEARS

Hearst plans to distribute 400,000 copies, including 20,000 through Sears, Roebuck & Co. retail outlets. Mr. Vila is a spokesman for Sears' Craftsman tools.

"If we get a good response from consumers, a sell-through of 50% and a good response to the blow-in cards, we'll go ahead with three more issues next year," said Thomas Wolf, senior VP at Hearst Magazines Enterprises.

The long-term goal is to publish a monthly with a rate base of 750,000.

Advertisers in the first issue include Andersen Corp.'s windows and Sears. The color page rate is $16,000.

Publishers still view the home market as a hot ad category, despite various disappointing statistics. Money spent on home remodeling last year actually fell 2% to $112.6 billion, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

In addition, other home magazines have seen ad pages decrease in 1996.

AD-PAGE DECLINES

Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Home is down 8.6% in ad pages through July to 553.5, according to Publishers Information Bureau figures. At Conde Nast Publications, upscale category leader Architectural Digest dropped 6.8% through July to 609.8 pages, while Hearst's 100-year-old House Beautiful slipped 13.9% through July to 454.4 pages.

But Dean Crist, NAHB's research economist, predicts a rebound in home expenditures this year, adding, "How far up it goes is anybody's guess."

He said new home construction and remodeling have each grown by more than 40% over the past 10 years.

Publishers launching into this category hope this year's figures represent a blip on the chart and that the market resumes its growth as nesting baby boomers increase their home expenditures.

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ON THE WAY

In fact, other publishers are mulling further expansion in the home category. Hachette is weighing an upscale title called Provence, while Time Inc.'s This Old House-based on a TV show Mr. Vila originally hosted-is raising its rate base 50% to 450,000 next year.

Some players wonder how many titles will survive on the homefront.

"We're all looking at the same landscape from a slightly different angle," said This Old House President Eric Thorkilsen. "Ultimately, you have to ask if the market can support this many magazines.'

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