MAGAZINE PRICE HIKES SEEN AS UNDER 5%

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Major magazine publishers are forecasting price hikes of 5% or less for 1997 ad rates-a sharp contrast to the nearly double-digit hikes most sought a year ago.

In a particularly surprising move, Hearst Magazines President Cathleen Black now appears to have backed down from an earlier plan to push through a 6% price hike.

In the face of resistance from ad agencies, Hearst titles are expected to seek increases of between 3% and 4%.

That also appears to be a re-action to Conde Nast Publications, whose president, Steven T. Florio, recently instructed his publishers

'97 ad-page rate increases set

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to seek only a 3.5% increase for 1997. Conde Nast's stable includes Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ and Self.

Said one Hearst insider, "It's a 3.2% increase for Good Housekeeping"-where ad pages have been down sharply this year-"and between 3% and 4% for everyone else."

A Hearst spokeswoman put the likely range at between 3% and 5%. The company also publishes Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Harper's Bazaar.

NO REPEAT OF EARLIER FUROR

Ms. Black is trying to be sensitive to media buyers' reactions in the wake of the public relations disaster that ensued when her predecessor, Claeys Bahrenburg, unveiled across-the-board rate base cuts and 5% ad-price hikes for the current fiscal year. The combined move translated into a 15% cost-per-thousand readers increase that angered many advertisers.

Following a sluggish first half for consumer magazine ad pages and recent trouble signs in the economy, most publishers are proceeding gingerly in setting ad prices for the coming year. Publishers' own internal cost pressures have also eased somewhat.

`GET PAGES BACK'

"We're not hearing any talk about double digits this time," said Robert Geller, president of Robert J. Geller & Associates, media buyer for Coty. "Nobody has paper problems anymore. It's time for magazine publishers to look real statesmanlike and see if they can get pages back."

Through June, Hearst registered the steepest decline of any major publisher, dropping 9.9% in ad pages to 5,729, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

Conde Nast, which imposed a 9.5% ad rate increase for '96, also saw ad pages fall 3.6% for the half, to 8,865.2. Hachette Filipacchi registered a 3.5% drop to 8,897.4 pages, despite a strategy that minimized ad-price increases this year in a bid to gain market share. Its rate plans for next year could not be determined.

Time Inc. magazines set ad increases on a title-by-title basis, but flagship Time is "probably looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of a 5% increase for '97," said Publisher Jack Haire.

Meredith Corp. executives are expected to reveal that company's pricing plans after Labor Day.

CASE-BY-CASE

"We do not set an across-the-board percentage for all our magazines," said Meredith Magazines President Chris Little. Last year's price hikes ranged from 4% to 8%.

But, said one Meredith publisher, "Obviously, with the other guys coming in around 3% it is going to have an effect on us. We were hoping to come in a little higher."

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