MAGAZINES' LACKLUSTER '96 ENDS WITH HOLIDAY BANG: AD PAGES CLIMB 8.9% IN DEC.; FULL YEAR SUFFERS SLIGHT SLIPPAGE

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Consumer magazines rallied in December, reaching 20,514 ad pages, up 8.9% from a year ago. But it wasn't enough to prevent the 1996 tally from falling short of the industry's year-ago record.

For the full year, ad pages slipped 0.1% to 213,780.9, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

Among the hits taken: Direct response ad pages fell 10.7% to 22,405.74, pushing the 1995 No. 2 revenue category down to No. 4. The food category dropped 10% to 7,229, to place No. 6 in revenue.

"Direct response .*.*. sales were off, and [marketers] responded by cutting advertising," said James Guthrie, exec VP-marketing at the Magazine Publishers of America. "The cereal manufacturers' price war . . . caused them to pull back on advertising, and that adversely affected the entire food category."

COMPUTER PAGES DOWN

The brightest 1995 star in percentage of revenue gains, computer advertising, also didn't maintain its past resiliency. Although it was the No. 2 category in ad revenue, pages actually fell 1.7% to 21,870. Auto advertising remained the top revenue generator, but ad pages were down 2.2% to 21,287.9 pages as many of the big automakers heavied up on Olympics TV spending.

Mr. Guthrie said increased media spending from the twin occurrences of an Olympics and election year tends to help weeklies and sports magazines-not all print.

The hot categories were drugs and remedies, surging 21.7% to 8,595.9 pages, and publishing and media, which elbowed its way into the top 10 revenue-generating categories fueled by an 18.3% gain to 4,270.2 pages. Under fire from federal regulators, who threatened to impose new restrictions, cigarette and tobacco advertising fell from the top 10 to No. 12 in revenue, down 4.8% to 4,177.2 pages.

20 MAGAZINES GAIN 15%+

Despite the relatively mixed year, 20 magazines racked up gains of more than 15%. Time Inc. had two of the hottest titles: In Style leaped 51.8% in pages to 774.6 while Martha Stewart Living remains red hot, jumping 42.9% to 855.3.

Among specialized titles, Runner's World sprinted ahead with a 23.1% gain to 525.79, while Saveur gained 21.2% to 394.9 pages. Net Guide avoided the high-tech slump that hit many other titles and saw its ad pages jump 31.8% to 1,007.19.

At Hearst Magazines, the effects of a full year of ad price hikes and rate base cuts yielded a not so pretty picture. Eleven of the 13 Hearst titles tracked by PIB posted declines, including the two top moneymakers: Cosmopolitan was down 6.6% to 1,687 and Good Housekeeping down 24.9% to 1,165.8. However, Town & Country's 150th anniversary enabled it to post a second consecutive year of

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