Seven Sisters Hold Ground While Newbies Dive

Traditional Women's Service Magazines Weathering Downturn Better

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- The surviving members of the Seven Sisters are finally getting some revenge.

Good Housekeeping

The venerable Seven Sisters of women's service magazines -- Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's, Redbook and Woman's Day -- were upstaged in the 1990s by fresh newcomers such as Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, More and O, The Oprah Magazine.

The new titles on newsstands made the Sisters seem frumpy and old-fashioned. McCall's refashioned itself as Rosie magazine in April 2001, drawing new advertisers, but shut down completely in December 2002.

Leading the pack
Unsurprisingly, the newcomers grew more quickly than most of the Sisters in 2005 and 2006, according to Publishers Information Bureau ad-page counts. More, Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living still led the pack for ad-page growth in 2007.

But in 2008, as the recession started, the new crowd fell fast. And so far in 2009, the Sisters are holding their ground better than the newcomers. From January through May, the three biggest declines came from Martha Stewart, Oprah and Real Simple, according to Media Industry Newsletter statistics.

Family Circle

The "new" women's-magazine formula, with big pieces of advertising from financial and luxury brands, may not be so hot during recession.

"What Oprah, Martha and Real Simple were able to attract, in a way we hadn't seen in the past, was near luxury," Pat Haegele, senior VP-publisher at Good Housekeeping. "This is the marketplace that simply doesn't have the money to spend right now."

The newer books also attracted advertisers that weren't usually big print buyers. "We carried so many brands exclusively that aren't in print now," said Kevin White, publisher of Real Simple. "Goodyear, which now has no print at all. GMC, no print. We still have No. 1 share in auto, but we're taking the biggest hit."

Efficient buys
And the Sisters' big circulations help them offer efficient buys during a time when advertisers and agencies are desperate for good mileage. The newcomers' pitches often rest elsewhere.

"Our strategy has not been pricing," said Sally Preston, senior VP-group publisher at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, whose assets include magazines, Martha Stewart's TV show, satellite radio programs and the web. "What's really been our advantage this year is the fact that we can leverage our strength across all platforms."

O, The Oprah Magazine

O, The Oprah Magazine remains one of the strongest brands on the newsstand, said Jill Seelig, VP-publisher there. "We are a core buy for brands that want to reach a truly engaged, responsive consumer."

Real Simple reports that its ad pages this July will top last July and that August looks strong, but nobody really knows when the recession will lift. Expect some serious jockeying among these magazines whenever recovery arrives. Already Redbook, Good Housekeeping and other Sisters are making moves, such as upgrading their paper stock or adopting a bigger format, meant to help them compete against the newcomers and separate themselves from the old image of the women's service magazines.

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