CONDE NAST TESTS WATERS IN CROWDED FINANCE

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Conde Nast Publications this month makes its first, cautious foray into the personal finance field, a magazine category that has been hot in recent years but is growing increasingly crowded and showing signs of cooling down.

The introduction of Conde Nast Currency is unusual for Conde Nast, which usually eschews tests in favor of full-blown magazine launches. Currency wasn't the brainchild of an editor but was developed by the corporate ad sales arm.

FREE TO SUBSCRIBERS

Conde Nast will mail 8.9 million copies of the new title free to subscribers to its 16 magazines along with their April issues.

The company had planned to publish two issues this year, mailing the second one with October issues. But it now will appear only once this year; if the reader and advertiser reaction is positive, three issues will be published in 1999.

Whether or not Currency remains a supplement published several times a year or grows into a monthly stand-alone, Conde Nast titles will gain quite a bit from the test issue.

Because Publishers Information Bureau prorates ad pages of a supplement based on a magazine's distribution of that supplement, each title will be able to count at least 15 to 20 of the 47 ad pages carried in Currency's debut issue.

MORE TO GAIN

So although the magazine carries 47 ad pages, Conde Nast titles collectively will gain more than 200 ad pages in PIB's count.

Many of the advertisers in the issue are also new to Conde Nast. That's no accident. Currency was conceived as a way to get financial advertisers to consider using lifestyle publications to reach new prospects, particularly women. The idea grew out of a study conducted by Yankelovich Partners for Conde Nast and the New York Stock Exchange.

"What we found is that financial products and services need to do a better job branding themselves to the consumer," said Catherine Viscardi Johnston, exec VP at Conde Nast, who is overseeing the project.

NEW CREATIVE

Some advertisers in Currency developed new creative specifically for the magazine, including T. Rowe Price, Oppenheimer Funds and Robertson Stephens. Other advertisers in the first issue include American Honda Motors, Chrysler Corp. and Microsoft Corp. A color page sold for $145,449; b&w was $101,814.

The test enters the personal finance category at a time when circulation has hit a "speed bump," in the words of SmartMoney Publisher Christopher Lambiase. Top titles SmartMoney, Money, Kiplinger's Personal Finance and Worth all saw circulation declines in the second half of last year, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

"The overall future for the category is very strong. I think what you are seeing is just a blip, a fluctuation in the business cycle due in part to the market correction in October," said Mr. Lambiase, who said ad pages are still growing, up 11% in the first quarter. SmartMoney saw a 3.4% dip in circulation in the second half of '97, to 679,006.

Category leader Money was down 2.9% in total circulation, to 1,935,402. Phillip Whitney, VP-consumer marketing, attributed the drop to "managing the circulation to get as close to rate base as possible."

`WORTH' DIP

Kiplinger's, with 1,069,054 total circulation, was down 6.9%. Worth, hampered by parent Capital Publishing's search for a new strategic partner or buyer, saw circulation drop 2.5% to 526,478.

There are three customized versions of the 90-page Currency, all featuring Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" on the cover. One, aimed at baby boomers, will be mailed to Vogue, Glamour, Self, GQ and Vanity Fair subscribers. Readers of Mademoiselle, Bride's, Details, Allure and Conde Nast Women's Sports & Fitness will get a version aimed at a younger, aspirational demo, while the third version, for affluent readers, will be mailed along with Architectural Digest, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Conde Nast House & Garden and Conde Nast Traveler.

Suze Orman, financial editor of Self, coordinated the editorial.

A Currency Web site, to be launched March 23 (www.cncurrency.com), will provide personalized tools and information on financial planning, primarily for women. The Web site has sold some $200,000 in ads to marketers including Microsoft Corp., American Express Co., Bank of America and Scudder Funds.

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