Soap Opera Digest will halve its rate base to 500,000, from 1 million, while Soap Opera Weekly will shrink to 225,000 from 300,000.
Steve Aster, exec VP-consumer marketing for Primedia, said the titles will focus on a hard-core group of enthusiasts, and that the move will greatly reduce subscription-acquisition costs.
As it cuts circulation, Soap Opera Digest will boost frequency from 48 times a year to 52. Mr. Aster said that some savings achieved via the rate-base reductions would be reinvested in editorial.
Both titles have struggled on the circulation side. Soap Opera Weekly missed its rate base three times in the last four reporting periods, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations. For the six months ending June 30, its circulation of 272,874 fell nearly 10% shy of its 300,000 rate base. "I'd rather sell [fewer copies] at a higher price and make more money," said Mr. Aster, noting that Soap Opera Weekly's cover price rose from $1.99 to $2.99 this year and will go up again in 2003.
Soap Opera Digest leads the soap category-although the segment is shrinking, along with ratings for the TV programs it covers. In June, Bauer Publishing shuttered Soap Opera Update and merged two Soaps In Depth titles.
Even setting aside their circulation softness, the soap titles seem ripe for rate-base readjustment. As weeklies, their production and distribution costs are significant. And, Mr. Aster said, they are "not as dependent on advertising" as most magazines. That means it makes little financial sense to maintain artificially high circulation numbers.
Through November, according to Publishers Information Bureau, Soap Opera Digest's ad pages rose 17.4% to 1,308 (Soap Opera Weekly is not tracked by PIB). Mr. Aster said both soap titles are profitable.
Many magazine publishers believe that rate-base reductions and cover-price increases are needed to lessen the industry's reliance on advertising by strengthening circulation profitability. Only a few have announced such moves recently, including Hachette Filipacchi Magazines U.S., which will cut the rate base of three of its titles next year (AA, Nov. 4).