Monthlies Revel in a September Rebound

Ad Pages Rise in Key Month, Fueling Optimism for Rest of '06

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NEW YORK ( -- September, a make-or-break month for many magazines, is giving the business a welcome boost following long stretches of flat performances. Not only are many monthly titles reporting more ad-page sales than they sold last September, but some publishers hope this September is part of a turnaround in general and a rebound in domestic-auto advertising in particular.
After a down first half for 'Maxim' and 'Jane,' things are looking up thanks to fat September issues.
After a down first half for 'Maxim' and 'Jane,' things are looking up thanks to fat September issues.

Most monthly titles have already finished selling their September issues and are now eyeing the fourth quarter. And how the first fall issue sells is often an indication for how the rest of the year will play out.

'Maxim' up over last year
Ad pages at Dennis Publishing's Maxim dropped 16.4% in the first half, partly victimized by a "dreadful first quarter" in terms of domestic-auto advertising, as group publisher Robert Gregory put it. But its September issue will include 115 ad pages, 18.8% more than last year's. "We're up almost across the board in September," Mr. Gregory said. "Very strong automotive -- Detroit came roaring back. That's obviously a great sign."

Jane also turned in an abysmal first half, selling 41.2% fewer pages than in the first half of 2005 -- and this at a company, Conde Nast Publications, that doesn't traditionally brook big slides for long. But September ad pages closed 11% higher than last September, following an August issue that increased pages by 12.4%, said Carlos Lamadrid, VP-publisher since November.

Big books of autumn
Fashion magazines continue to be the marquee big books of autumn, beneficiaries of ad campaigns for new looks and lines. Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.'s Elle, for one, will publish its largest September issue this year, with 367 ad pages (about 6% higher than last year) out of 566 total pages. Vogue this September will have 625.42 ad pages, down 9.4% from last year's figure -- but last year's figure included the first issue of Men's Vogue, which came out in September. At Conde sibling Glamour, which grew first-half pages by 5.1%, September will be up a full 15%.

But obviously the trend has spread beyond fashion, making September one of the most important months for many magazines. "Besides the strict fashion books, a young-men's magazine like Blender certainly benefits from the fall fashion season," said Lee Rosenbaum, Blender's publisher, citing brands from Lugz to DKNY as assets to the title's bottom line. But September can also be a big month for liquor, particularly for summer drinks, he said. At Blender, a Dennis title, ad pages will come in 19.3% higher than they did last September.

There are other reasons people watch September performances.

'Martha Stewart Living' turnaround
"We're all inching toward the end of the fiscal year," said Sally Preston, senior VP-publisher, Martha Stewart Living. "You want to end your third quarter on a strong note. That's why all of us focus on it so much -- hoping that September is some kind of indicator of how strong the fourth quarter will be." Although domestic-auto advertising was unchanged from last year, the title continued the remarkable growth that followed Ms. Stewart's release from prison and will print a September issue with about 67% more ad pages.

Not everyone is up, nor is Detroit roaring back everywhere at once. September ad pages edged down 2% at Time Inc.'s In Style, although Publisher Lynette Harrison said the central business was more than healthy. "We're thrilled with In Style's strong performance in its core categories of fashion, beauty and retail, which have grown so far in 2006," she said. "Not surprisingly, the ... decline in automotive affected our September pages."

Not always about September
Shop Etc. from Hearst magazines is off 5% for September, which Cynthia Lewis, VP-publisher, blamed on consolidation among big chain stores and uncertainty among the marketers who sell products in them. "Also people are not traveling to the stores as frequently, especially the big stores, the box stores, because of the gas prices," she said. "Any magazine that has performed what is essentially flat against last year is doing very well."

Then again, Shop Etc. is one of those titles where September still isn't its biggest month; its combined December/January issue matters more, Ms. Lewis said.

If September is most titles' biggest month for ads, however, the one that follows can be the worst, Mr. Rosenbaum said. "The scary issue is always October," he said. "People just feel like they need to be in September and then they start gearing up for the holidays."
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