Magazine 300

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Magazine publishers sailed strongly through 2004 after exiting in 2003 the choppy waters of economic depression, but as they build on those gains this year, they're finding that pace too hot to match.

The nation's top 300 magazines, as measured by gross revenue from advertising and circulation, recorded a new high in 2004, hitting $34.93 billion in gross revenue, an 8% uptick that eliminated any vestiges of lingering depression in the industry, according to the 16th annual Advertising Age Magazine 300 report.

Advertising, accounting for three-quarters of the total, hit $25.27 billion for a growth of 10.5%-a factor of 2.8% more ad pages to 352,000 and an average 6.3% hike in ad rates. Circulation came in at $9.66 billion, growth of 1.9% solely credited to price hikes rather than additional readers.

Time Warner, topping all publishers with $7.26 billion in gross revenue drawn from its 34 Top 300 titles, couldn't have experienced a more impressive finish as its newsweeklies, People, Sports Illustrated and Time, claimed the top three spots-each at a stratospheric $1 billion-plus gross revenue.

People outpulled its siblings with gross revenue of $1.27 billion, but it grew less, at 2.9%, than Sports Illustrated's and Time's identical 10.2% increase. Together, the three TW publications grabbed nearly 10% of total gross revenue of the Top 300.

Gemstar-TV Guide International's TV Guide, the only other publication in the 300 to have ever registered $1 billion-plus gross-in 1999-closed No. 4 at $917.6 million, up 0.1%. That is the old TV Guide. Next month the publication becomes a full-size, color edition with national listings carrying a newsstand price of $1.99, from $2.49. TV Guide also will cut its circulation by half to 4.5 million by ending sales of discounted copies.


All magazines, viewed by frequency, managed in 2004 to kick off any lingering dust of the recession. Monthlies, in particular, were the prime reason ad pages moved forward 2.8% from a meager 0.9% in 2003. Accounting for 185 of the Top 300 titles, monthlies grew 3.2% in ad pages versus 2.3% the previous year. Weeklies (63 publications) rose 1.9% vs. -2.7% in ad pages in 2003, and fortnightlies (13 titles) rose 4.8% vs. -0.1% in `03.

A good reason for the across-the-board growth in all frequencies was a renewed vigor in the top 10 consumer magazine categories in 2004, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Nine out of the top 10 were up; the No. 10 category, technology, declined in ad pages. The top spender, automotive, boosted pages 5.3%, according to PIB's measurement of 240 magazines, most of which are among the 244 consumer titles included in the Top 300.

Consumer magazines in the Top 300 claimed 92% of total revenue on 3.9% growth in ad pages (vs. 2.1% in `03) and 11.4% growth in ad revenue in 2004. The 56 business publications on the list edged up 2.7% in ad revenue and 0.1% in ad pages, their first increase since their 15.5% growth in 2000, a dot-com-infused number.

Those gains are slipping, though. Ad page growth in the first eight months of 2005 has tapered to 1.5% and ad revenue to 8.4%, according to PIB. Most categories in that period are lagging their growth tallies in 2004. Volume leader automotive is down 0.1% in pages through August.

Detroit, struggling to regain profitability, has funneled ad dollars previously earmarked for magazines and other media into online, events and promotions among the "more measurable" forms of advertising. The automotive-popular men's category recorded ad page growth of only 0.1% through the August 2005, when aggregating the Top 300 magazines found in the PIB data (only four are missing). By contrast, the Top 300 men's category grew 10.7% in '04 pages.

Trade publications so far in 2005 have done better, advancing 1.3% in ad pages and 3.4% in ad revenue through July, reports the Business Information Network of the American Business Media association.

During 2004, only the home service & home category among the Magazine 300's top 10 categories declined in ad pages. It was down 1.9%.

The leading three categories by gross ad revenue in the Top 300, women's, newsweeklies and general editorial, claimed $10.39 billion, 41% of the 300. Ad pages for these categories aggregated 4.4% growth. Through August 2005, the titles in these categories reported collective ad page growth of 1%, according to PIB.

Paid circulation for the Top 300 was down 0.4% to 366,101,695, a blend of paid subs, down 0.1%, and single-copy sales, down 2.4%. This year, paid subs are likely to drop even lower because of action taken by the Audit Bureau of Circulations against subscription agents building the "paid" side with sponsored copies (often mass drops to offices). As many as 5 million "paid" subs may need to be omitted from the paid column.

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