The group of women's service magazines were so named decades ago because of the mass-market reach each delivered and the similarity of editorial. Today, many of their rate bases have been reduced, and Hearst Magazines' Redbook is the latest to attempt to break out of the traditional Seven Sisters mold altogether, trying to defect to the beauty/fashion category.
Redbook, due to Hearst's companywide rate-base cuts in 1995, found itself suddenly the smallest title with a rate base of 2.8 million. The magazine has since tried to reposition itself as a beauty/fashion title in league with Cosmopolitan and Glamour.
Publisher Jayne Jamison said Redbook "is a bridge between the fashion/beauty and women's service titles for a younger, married woman."
However, advertisers aren't always buying it.
IDENTITY CRISIS AT `REDBOOK'
"We're all still waiting for Redbook to decide what it wants to be," said Steve Greenberger, VP-director of print media at Grey Advertising, New York. "It's too expensive for the one category and too small for the other."
Jayne Haynes, media supervisor at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, agreed: "That positioning can be difficult or great for them. I perceive it as a little bit difficult. In reality, they are older than all the beauty/fashion titles, and smaller than all the women's service" magazines.
Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's McCall's had been in a similarly tough position two years ago. But repositioning the magazine as the women's service title closest in content to People has made a difference, said Gruner Chief Operating Officer Andreas Wiehle.
"We've seen and heard from advertisers that the perception of McCall's has improved," he said.
Mr. Greenberger agreed: "We no longer are hearing that McCall's is going out of business from competitors but that it is a worthy foe."
Publishers and managers at the Seven Sisters say that never before has the field been able to note such distinct editorial differences among them, a healthy development leading to a strong ad market for most.
THE SHELTER SISTER
Meredith Corp.'s Better Homes & Gardens still has the largest circulation, with a rate base guarantee of 7.6 million, and is known as the Sister with the most shelter and garden editorial. That difference also enables it to boast about 10 million male readers, noted Christopher Little, president of Meredith Publishing Group.
Better Homes also is using its size and desire to maintain that rate base as an opportunity to raise newsstand and subscription prices, thereby driving up revenue, he said. Ad pages for the title were down slightly through April compared with last year's 75th anniversary issues.
Mr. Little sees 1998 as "a solid year" for both Better Homes and Ladies' Home Journal, also owned by Meredith, with the two capturing 33.5% of the ad pages in the category through the April editions. While food, health and beauty remain strong categories, two up-and-coming areas are computers and financial services.
"These two are where automotive was 10 years ago in realizing the growing importance of the women's market," Mr. Little said.
`GH' BONUS FOR '97
Hearst's Good Housekeeping, with a rate base of 4.5 million, also has been working to maintain its lowered rate base for the past two years after its parent company cut rate bases at all its titles. Despite that move, Good Housekeeping delivered a bonus of more than 230,000 at the end of 1997.
The title also has raised its basic subscription price 22% since 1995 to $21.97, making it the highest of all the women's service magazines, and is the only one listing its basic subscription price on its Audit Bureau of Circulations publisher's statement. That has now become a bragging point for the title, along with its Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and Good Housekeeping Institute.
Publisher Pat Haegele said new Seal agreements signed this year with more than 20 companies have brought in incremental revenue of more than $2.7 million.
Additionally, in a still unannounced deal to be finalized later this month, Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s Kenmore brand will soon begin carrying the Good Housekeeping Seal on more than 200 products.
That deal, along with an agreement for the Good Housekeeping Institute to be regularly featured on ABC's "Primetime Live," will raise consumer awareness about its home products reporting.
Good Housekeeping also is the only Sister that ended 1997 with an increase in newsstand sales.
Gruner & Jahr's Family Circle, with a 5 million rate base guarantee, is most often competing with Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Woman's Day since they both traditionally have had strong supermarket checkout aisle presence and newsstand sales. Both titles have tweaked their cover designs over the past year to perk up newsstand sales.
Family Circle started by cleaning clutter from the cover and featuring crafts and flowers more often than the traditional food covers, and Woman's Day soon followed suit.
Hachette Filipacchi Senior VP-Chief Operating Officer John Fennell said that while Woman's Day's ad pages are flat through May, advertisers such as RJR Nabisco, Mannington Mills and Armstrong have all increased spending this year.
"Having recently reacquainted myself with the field, I have to say I was impressed with all of them," said Kirshenbaum's Ms. Haynes. "Editorially they all looked great, and they are still the most efficient way to reach a mass female market."