'New Woman' falls to circ woes

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No more makeovers for New Woman.

After two relaunches in 21/2 years, Rodale has pulled the plug on the magazine it paid some $20 million to acquire from Primedia.

The shuttering of the glossy monthly deals a blow to the publisher. It had hoped to broaden its offerings in the women's market with the addition of New Woman, and set out to position the title as a female counterpart to its Men's Health.

The move comes at a time of transition for Rodale. The company is searching for a successor to outgoing President-CEO Bob Teufel. And Vice Chairman-Director of Corporate Strategy Maria Rodale, who is in line to succeed her mother, Ardath Rodale, as chairman of the privately held media company, has been taking a more active management role.

AD PAGES DROP 3%

Rodale is one of only a handful of magazine companies not reaping the rewards of a boom in advertiser spending. Magazine ad pages rose 4.5% in the first 11 months of 1999 compared to the same period last year, according to Publishers Information Bureau figures. But pages in Rodale titles actually declined 3% for the period.

Ad pages in New Woman were up 1.5% to 626 through November. But Rodale Magazines President John Griffin said circulation difficulties were the prime culprit in the decision to discontinue New Woman.

"Outside influences on circulation made it really hard to achieve the kind of turnaround we were looking for that was going to sustain New Woman," a spokesman for Rodale said. "We had seen a significant circulation drop, and we didn't see that turning around."

Rodale would have had to lower the magazine's rate base from 1.175 million to 1 million or less in 2000, the spokesman said. Such a move could have slowed what little advertising momentum the title had started to build.

Publisher Laura McEwen said several advertisers, including Cosmair, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Pfizer, Reebok International, Playtex Family Products Corp. and Sephora had increased their commitments for 2000. "Within the media departments, they were getting it and noting that we had a unique voice," Ms. McEwen said.

Roberta Garfinkle, senior VP-director of print media at McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, confirmed that view, saying, "We had seen a vastly improved editorial product and advertisers were responding.

"Rodale knows the mathematics, but it really looks like they didn't give it a chance," she added.

STAFFERS SHOCKED

The announcement of the magazine's demise shocked staffers, many of whom had joined within the last year after Judy Coyne was brought in from Glamour with much fanfare to be chief editor. Ms. Coyne was the magazine's second editor under Rodale's ownership, and gave the title its second makeover.

Under Ms. Coyne, the magazine was repositioned with a more sophisticated look and tone to attract thirtysomething women. Rodale also upgraded New Woman's paper stock and kicked off a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. Ziccardi & Partners, New York, had handled that campaign.

Ms. McEwen believes the title would have turned a profit in two to three years, but acknowledged the women's market requires a "tremendous amount of capital investment, especially at the newsstand."

Judith Langer, founder of marketing consultancy the Langer Group, noted that in focus groups women said they liked New Woman but that the title was not focused enough to attract a loyal following.

"The market is extremely crowded, the [leading women's service titles] are all still very strong. We have more specialty magazines than ever before," Ms. Langer said.

Contributing: Ann-Christine P. Diaz.

Copyright December 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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