AOL overhauls titles

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AOL Time Warner will revamp two of the biggest magazine brands in its Time4 Media portfolio after both took hard hits to their advertising bases.

Field & Stream and Outdoor Life will significantly chop their rate bases and ad rates and undergo redesigns in a bid to rebuild business. AOL Time Warner's Time Inc. division acquired Time4 Media, formerly known as Times Mirror Magazines, last year.

Field & Stream will reduce its rate base to 1.5 million, from 1.75 million. Outdoor Life's rate base will drop more dramatically, to 900,000 from 1.35 million. It will also reduce frequency from 10 times a year to nine.

Ad rates will decline as well, by about 10% for Field & Stream to $92,000 for an open page, and by about one-third for Outdoor Life to $49,o00.

Basic subscription rates-previously $18 for Field & Stream and $15 for Outdoor Life, both of which sport newsstand prices of $3.99-will be hiked 20%. Field & Stream will unveil a redesign with its January issue, Outdoor Life with its February/March issue.

"It's probably a way to clean up their readership as well as get some ad pages back in the books," said Eric Blankfein, VP-director of planning at Horizon Media, New York.

The magazines could use the help, with both suffering the types of downturns seen this year mostly by new-economy and business titles. Field & Stream's ad pages fell 33.9% in the first 11 months of 2001 compared to the same period last year, while Outdoor Life's plummeted 36.7%, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

Tom Ott, group publisher of Time4's Outdoor Co., painted the moves as a way to "focus on the core reader" and keep the titles affordable for endemic advertisers.

Field & Stream and Outdoor Life have been hard hit by Philip Morris Cos.' voluntary decision to pull all cigarette advertising from certain magazines. In 1999, the tobacco marketer spent $2.5 million in Outdoor Life-8.5% of the magazine's total ad revenues-and $4 million in Field & Stream, 7.6% of its total, according to Publishers Information Bureau and Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

"These magazines have been historically reliant" on tobacco, truck and alcohol ads, said Mr. Ott, who called the Philip Morris losses "substantial." The magazines will target new categories, including pharmaceuticals and building products, he said, while renewing their emphasis on endemic business.

Besides the tobacco cuts, the automotive category has also pulled back substantially from magazines in the current downturn. Automotive ad pages were down 15.7% in the first 11 months of 2001 compared to the same period last year, according to PIB.

On the circulation front, both magazines were essentially flat in the first half of the year, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations. One concern voiced by bidders for Times Mirror Magazines last year was that the key titles relied too heavily on sweepstakes houses and other disappearing circulation sources.

Jason Klein, former Times Mirror Magazines CEO, appeared to implicitly endorse that view in his comments about the impending changes. "None of [the moves] are surprising in light of some changes within the industry, particularly with regard to agent-driven circulation," Mr. Klein said.

Mr. Ott said the redesigns are being done in part because of concerns over blurred identities between the two magazines. Separate Web sites for each will launch in January as well.

"We had converged the titles accidentally," Mr. Ott said. There needs to be "true differentiation of the titles in the marketplace to get traction back with the readership and ad community."

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