Execution and timing
A combination of execution and good timing, however, has provided an exception in More, a two-time A-List magazine that has found success selling editorial and ad pages for women aged 40 and up.
"I remember reading Mirabella, and in fact I worked at Mirabella briefly, and reading Lear's," recalls Peggy Northrop, More editor in chief. "I always thought those magazines were aimed at a woman who defined herself primarily as a career woman. At the time, that was a smaller crowd, and advertisers weren't interested."
But advertisers are very interested in More. Ad pages for 2006 through September totaled 750.9, up 12.9% over a year ago, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Readers are interested too. In the first half of this year, More reported an average paying crowd of nearly 1.2 million per issue, 10% over first-half 2005.
41 million women
"These are women between the ages of 40 and 60," says Brenda Saget Darling, VP-publisher. "There are 41 million women in that demographic, and it is not just an enormous market but it's a different market ... than existed previously when publishers tried to reach this demographic."
For being here now, then, but also for selling lots of ads, building a brand from scratch, speaking in a sensibly positive voice and especially for refusing to run photos of women under 40, More is Advertising Age's 2006 Magazine of the Year.
As media expand, divide and expand again to create channels for everyone from activist shoppers (Gawker Media's The Consumerist) to high-definition TV fans (Mark Cuban's HDNet), it gets harder to imagine a world without venues for women over 40.
"Readers in general are looking for specifically targeted magazines that reflect them and are relentlessly focused on them," Ms. Northrop says.
Women past their 30s have gotten particularly demanding about it, adds Ms. Northrop, 52. "They feel somehow the culture is ignoring the power and money they have," she says.
Not that media fragmentation necessarily plays to the business plan at More, which Meredith Corp. introduced in 1998.
"I applaud Meredith for investing in the magazine," says Brenda White, VP-director of print investment at Starcom Worldwide, Chicago. "They've done a great job of getting the magazine out there, and getting advertisers and buyers to understand who they are."
"Meredith and Peggy Northrop saw that 40 is the new 30," Ms. White says. "More, in my opinion, really got that buzz going."
Readers have bought into that buzz by now, but appropriately enough, the magazine got better at serving them as it matured. While More's overall circulation was growing steadily in younger days, its newsstand sales -- which many advertisers and agencies consider an indicator of a title's vitality -- dropped from an average of 123,834 in 2000 to 108,580 in 2001. Then it hovered, seemingly stuck, around 113,000 for three years.
New cover strategy
"I can chart the beginnings of our newsstand success back to July 2005," Ms. Northrop says. "We put Jessica Lange on the cover, and instead of doing what had sold well ... which were cover lines like 'Age Less,' all of a sudden I decided I was bored with ... anti-aging, and I came up with an idea."
She decided to use a cover line that read, "Energy, Confidence, Attitude: The New Look of 40+," defying the usual rules of magazine cover design. "You were supposed to write 'Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Minutes' kinds of cover lines," Ms. Northrop says.
After that issue sold much better than expected at newsstands, the next issue's cover line read, "Great Style After 40," and a drumbeat of inspirational messages followed ever after. "That was really the beginning of racking up newsstand gains every month since," Ms. Northrop says.
Most recently, More reported moving an average of 149,600 newsstand copies per issue in the first half of this year, up 25.1% over the same period in 2005 in a single-copy environment that has left many publishers scrambling. And according to Meredith's filing with the Audit Bureau of Circulations' Rapid Report system, this summer's July/August issue sold 185,000 copies on the newsstand.
Ad sales savvy
Readers or no, ad sales have required a bit of savvy, Ms. Darling says.
"The world is still obsessed with youth and youth celebrity," she says. "I've found a new tack with media planners who are all in their 20s. There's this whole engagement with their mothers. The 20-something girls go shopping with their moms, they go on vacations together. If I can get a 25-year-old media planner to relate the magazine to her cool mother, we're 50% of the way there."
If readers are getting demanding these days, it's safe to say advertisers are also ramping up expectations.
"There are still a lot of hurdles in that area," says Ms. Darling, 50. "When you have a marketer who's very specific, you have to remind them what 40-plus means today. Combined we earned over $1 trillion last year. A lot of advertisers tell you that they're going to target young. I have to reinforce to them that a lot of the magazines they are advertising in have the same median age we do."
To supplement her arguments, Ms. Darling and the business side have made the most of a range of brand extensions like the More Marathon and More Model Search. A radio show is in the offing. Working with Women in Film, the Los Angeles group for women in entertainment and media, the magazine has just started a screenplay and short-film contest for women over 40-with plenty of sponsorship opportunities.
"They've been very smart with their brand extensions," Ms. White says. "They're part of the magazine's DNA."
While More has proved there's money to be made marketing to women aged 40 and up, it still has to pass many of the same tests that other magazines do, particularly titles that are so specifically focused.
"They do have a challenge, as the bridal magazines and parenting magazines do, in that this is a life stage," Ms. White says. "They have to keep their eye on what's important to the 40-plus woman today."
Not that Meredith and More don't know that-aggressively meeting their readers where and how readers want is part of More's success story.
"Newsstand growth -- I don't take that for granted," Ms. Northrop says.
There's a lesson in there for advertisers, too, Ms. Darling adds. This audience doesn't want to be addressed with the voice of a 20-year-old actress, she points out. "They are belligerent about marketers speaking to them explicitly. If you ever told them so-and-so marketer was trying to reach 24-to-35-year-old women, they would boycott."