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March didn't exactly roar in like a lion for the magazine industry, but it has come out stronger than a lamb.

Ad pages for March rose 2.9%, compared with the same month last year, to 15,287.7. Ad revenue for the month climbed 9.4% to $680.2 million.

The monthly showing was enough to nudge the entire first-quarter ad page count ahead of last year's strong first quarter. Magazine pages through March were up 1.2% to 39,495, and revenue was ahead 6.2% to $1.8 billion.

March was the strongest month in the first quarter, as a result of major revenue gains in four key categories-computers/office equipment, toiletries/cosmetics, publishing/media and direct response, said James R. Guthrie, exec VP-marketing development at the Magazine Publishers of America.

The "gains are modest compared to ... 1993, which was the strongest first quarter in eight years," Mr. Guthrie said. "The real measure of the underlying soundness of 1994 will begin with the second quarter."

Gradual increases are predicted by Richard Kostyra, president-ceo at Media First International, New York.

"I don't think we'll see rapid acceleration, but I think we'll see slow, steady growth for the rest of the year," Mr. Kostyra said. "The sales that are supposed to support ad budgets seem to be coming in."

Seven of the top 10 ad categories showed significant revenue increases in March. Besides the major gains in the four top categories, three others had significant gains: travel/hotels/resorts, drugs/remedies and business/consumer services.

Among individual magazines, performance was mixed in March. In the business field, Business Week led with a 35.9% gain to 274.8 pages. The Economist also had a healthy 10.2% increase to 267.9 pages, but Fortune rose only 3.6% to 204.3. Forbes, last year's Publishers Information Bureau ad page king, was down 22.1% to 210.6.

By comparison, the newsweekly category in March was strong across the board. Time rose 29% to 174 pages, U.S. News & World Report climbed 19% to 181.8 and Newsweek was up 11.1% to 161.5. For the entire first quarter, Newsweek was down 20.6% to 399.1 pages, dropping to third place after leading the category at this time last year.

Bridal Guide led all PIB-tracked magazines with 441 pages for March, though it was down slightly from the 442.9 pages it carried for the same month last year.

March, however, was less kind to Sunday magazines, which dropped 6.3% to 530.6 pages in the category. The Los Angeles Times Magazine fell 22.4% to 124.5 pages, while The New York Times Magazine slipped 1.3% to 290.1. was up 3.1% to 57.2 pages, and USA Weekend rose 3.8% to 58.9 pages.

Keith J. Kelly contributed to this story.

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