Advance makes play for 'Mode'

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Advance Publications' stable of fashion titles might get a little bigger.

The magazine giant, which owns Conde Nast Publications and Fairchild Publications, appears close to a deal with the founders of Mode magazine, the title targeting full-figured women

Conde Nast is also said to be one of the publishing houses talking to The New York Times Co. about buying its magazine division, which is reportedly on the selling block.

Mode's co-founders and co-publishers, Nancy LeWinter and Julie Lewit-Nirenberg, said companies have approached Mode, but that nothing was definite. "Two companies have approached us," said Ms. LeWinter, but she declined to identify them.

Conde Nast Chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. has been "interested in that market," said one Conde exec, referring to the plus-size audience Mode caters to. While a good fit for advertisers, Mode's modus operandi differs significantly from the ultraslim ideals espoused by the models populating the likes of Vogue, Glamour and Fairchild's W.

It's uncertain which arm of Advance would house the title. Steven T. Florio, president-CEO of Conde Nast, was unavailable for comment. A Conde Nast spokeswoman said the company had no comment. Mary Berner, CEO of Fairchild, did not return a call seeking comment.

Near the end of last week, odd signs at Conde Nast-equivalent to black-smoke sightings at the Vatican-alerted astute onlookers to a deal in the works. Some meetings with Conde top brass were canceled, and, most amusingly, one executive reported seeing Mr. Newhouse-who favors casual clothes-wearing a sport jacket at lunchtime one day last week.

Mode launched in spring 1997 as a 50/50 partnership between Harris Publications and Ms. LeWinter and Ms. Lewit-Nirenberg. In September 1997, Irvine, Calif.-based Freedom Communications, bought out Harris' interest for $5 million, said an industry exec familiar with the deal.

"We are ripe for acquisition," Ms. LeWinter said. "Mode represents a great opportunity for a company with a strong corporate buy"-a reference, perhaps, to the Conde Nast Super Buy, through which advertisers can buy across Conde Nast's entire stable of titles.

Freedom "is not really moving in a bigger way into consumer magazines," Ms. LeWinter said, adding, "advertisers want to deal with packages," and there are few opportunities within Freedom for multi-title buys for Mode's fashion and beauty advertisers.

Conde Nast's interest in the plus-size category comes as Tommy Hilfiger announced it will produce a line for sizes 14-22. In 1999, according to the NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y., marketing-information company, sales of women's apparel in sizes 16 and over accounted for $26.1 billion, 27.1 percent of all women's apparel sales. Sales of clothing in those sizes rose 10 percent from 1998, while total sales of all women's apparel rose just 4 percent.

For 2000, Mode's ad pages increased 14 percent over its 1999 results, to 629.3, according to Publishers Information Bureau. Its rate base for its 1997 launch was 250,000. Through June its circulation was 602,753, up a whopping 23.1 percent, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Conde Nast's last major acquisition was when it purchased Fairchild from Disney in August 1999. Its last single-title magazine acquisition occurred in June 1998, when it bought Wired from its founders.

Contributing: Mercedes Cardona

Copyright January 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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