In the same year Gannett Co.'s USA Weekend inked an unprecedented deal to make it the exclusive magazine carried by the Thomson Newspapers chain, USA Weekend and chief rival Advance Publications' Parade toured together to deliver a joint public awareness presentation before ad agencies.
NO PLANS TO CONTINUE EFFORT
It was business as usual for the category in the first quarter of 1998, with no signs of any other chainwide deals on the horizon and no formal plans between the two titles for continued cooperation.
With the exception of Thomson, the practice of most chains is to let individual publishers choose between USA Weekend and Parade, paying a fixed rate per thousand copies carried and receiving a percentage of the ad revenue. But Thomson President-CEO Stuart Garner said earlier in 1997 he made the chainwide decision because the benefits of a long-term contract with one supplier, such as simplified customer service, were too good to pass up.
According to USA Weekend President, CEO and Editor Marcia Bullard and Parade Publisher Carlo Vittorini, other chains have yet to follow suit. None have approached either publication with a similar plan.
Frank Whittaker, VP of McClatchy Newspapers, says his company has no plans to stray from its established model of giving its papers freedom of choice in such matters.
"Our policy is that each of our publishers has local autonomy for those kinds of decisions," he says. "I would never say never, but it's highly unlikely that we would enter into a group corporate contract like that. Each publisher will make the decision based on individual market needs. It's just the way we run our company."
Likewise, Ms. Bullard says USA Weekend won't go out of its way to seek out similar arrangements.
"When a group like Thomson makes a decision that they think is the right thing for their papers as a whole, of course, we believe they're right and we're pleased with those decisions," she says. "[But] this doesn't change the way we are approaching the business."
ONE BIG BOOST
Though the Thomson deal may be a distribution singularity, it's proved a lucrative singularity for USA Weekend. The contract gave the title a 600,000-circulation boost as 30 newspapers signed aboard.
With notable additions such as Sacramento Bee and Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, USA Weekend gained 39 papers (including Thomson) in 1997 and the first quarter of 1998, its circulation up to 21.3 million through 534 papers. The title has lost seven papers in that period.
"More newspapers are making the decision to take on USA Weekend," says Ms. Bullard. "USA Weekend is the fastest growing magazine in the Sunday magazine field, and has been for the past several years. ... Since 1995, 148 papers have added USA Weekend, which is phenomenal and shows that growth has been enormous."
Parade has attained an estimated circulation of 37 million through 326 papers, thanks in part to the addition of 890,000-circulation Philadelphia Inquirer.
VITTORINI SEES GAINS
Six papers have taken on the title since the beginning of 1997 and Mr. Vittorini expects to add two or three more in July. The title lost 13 papers in this period, 10 of them were Thomson papers.
Though Mr. Vittorini says the Thomson papers offered to carry Parade with USA Weekend, he decided to drop them after the switch.
"We felt that eventually, on a one-by-one basis, we were going to be losing the markets and we just decided we'd rather do it all at once," he says. "We felt the decision was being made on a monetary basis rather than a qualitative basis."
Mr. Vittorini says his publication has reached something of a circulation saturation point: There are not a lot of additional papers he can solicit, though USA Weekend can pitch to most of his.
GANNETT THE ROCK
"A large percentage of USA Weekend is Gannett," he says. "Gannett reps a huge amount of USA Weekend's circ. If you name a major market that they have, you'll find Louisville, Des Moines, Wilmington, Del. They're all owned by Gannett, so we can't solicit them."
Also, Mr. Vittorini says when he pulls Parade out of one paper to join with another in the same market, USA Weekend "moves in by default."
"When [USA Weekend] moved into the Chicago Sun-Times, it was because we . . .went to the Tribune," he says. "They get a boost from our success."
CREDITS EDITORIAL PRODUCT
Ms. Bullard attributes her title's growth to the direction of the editorial product, which targets the 25-to-50-year-old reader, and programs such as "Newspapers in Education."
Though Ms. Bullard says papers in the Gannett chain aren't obligated to carry USA Weekend, the title is carried in 85 of Gannett's 87 papers.
In 1997, USA Weekend carried 673.43 pages, according to Competitive Media Reporting, a 12% increase over 1996, and revenue of $263 million, up 15%. Parade carried 682.02 pages, a 5% increase over the previous year, and revenues of $517.2 million (its highest ever), a gain of 4.5%.
So far in '98, ad pages were slightly off for both titles. Parade's pages were down 13% in January to March, compared with the same period last year, to 155.69 in 1998. Ad revenues were expected to be $123.8 million, down 7.2% from the comparable '97 period.
According to Parade's President John Beni, revenue was off by only 7% because ad rates went up 5%. Mr. Beni also says the mix of advertisers changed somewhat this year and advertisers earned less of a discount because they ran fewer pages.
For January and February, USA Weekend ad pages were down 6.2% to 92.5 over the same two months in 1997. Ad revenues for the period were up 3.7% to $41.1 million, according to Publishers Information Bureau.
DIRECT RESPONSE BIG
Both Sunday magazines are focusing on attracting more financial services, automotive and direct response advertising. The defection of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertisers has also been a concern with the Sunday magazines. After TV became an option for pharmaceutical companies when FDA allowed it last year, the two titles took a joint presentation they had done for the American Association of Advertising Agencies on the road to advertisers, agencies and pharmaceutical executives.
Since the two books exist in separate markets, they don't directly compete for advertising. In the cities where there is more than one paper such as Chicago, advertisers tend to buy Chicago Tribune for Parade and the Sun-Times for USA Weekend to cover the whole market.
An executive at a pharmaceutical company who saw the presentation says it showed "the strength of the individual titles as well as their combined force," and convinced him their combined distribution of 57 million was still a potent medium for advertising.
Though the presentations in his view seemed "far more defensive than they needed to be," Frank Hone, exec VP at Rubin Ehrenthal & Associates, New York, says they helped him see some of the brands his company handles are better suited to print advertising than TV commercials.
Mr. Vittorini and Ms. Bullard described the presentations as an awareness campaign and say it didn't drum up any quantifiable business. Neither title says it has official plans to do it again, though neither is ruling out the possibility.
"Nothing's planned out right at this point and time," says Chuck Gabrielson, VP-publisher of USA Weekend. "There's always the possibility that in the future we'll do that, but we have nothing going forward from this point and time.