Magazine ad page leaders (chart) AUTO ENGINE DRIVES GROWTH FOR MAGAZINES

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Third-quarter consumer magazine ad growth got off with a bang, as July pages jumped 8% to 11,076.8. But many of the hardest fought category races remain too close to call.

Automotive advertising, in particular, continues to roar, fueling the rise for many consumer publications. Domestic car advertising is up 8.4% year to date, and Asian-made cars are up 5.5% after a slow start. European car ads are ahead by a sizzling 34.8%

James Guthrie, exec VP-marketing at the Magazine Publishers of America, which tracks consumer magazine advertising, noted, "The increase is broadly based, and that's a very good sign."

Year-to-date, total ad pages are up 5.1% to 97,782.5 marking the strongest ad page percentage gain for the seven-month period in a decade.

"That should hold through the third quarter, when we are being compared to a fairly weak period in '93," Mr. Guthrie said.

Despite the overall rise, many titles are still waging knock-down-drag-out fights for the top spots in their categories.

Business Week maintains its perch at the top of all consumer titles with 1,938.38 ad pages. But the McGraw-Hill flagship was off in July since it published one issue fewer than a year ago. Its lead over archrival Forbes is down to 24.7 pages. "It will probably be a photo finish," predicted Forbes publisher Jeffrey Cunningham.

BW publisher David Ferm downplays the chase for the PIB crown. "It's a bit of a hollow race, frankly," he said. "If we end up No. 1, so be it. I'm more concerned about beating our own revenue and profit goals."

He expected to see his 9.4% ad page increase slide a bit through the rest of the third quarter but, he predicted, "we'll come back real strong in the fourth quarter."

No. 2 Forbes kept the heat on, increasing its July tally 21.5%.

Further down the list, the race among the top three weekly newsmagazines remains too close to call. U.S. News, back on top in the category after a slow start, saw its lead sliced to a razor thin 4.6-page margin through July and is now flat, while No. 2 Time is up 8.8% for the year. Runner-up Newsweek is down 6.7%.

Teen titles remain tempestuous as shown by the recent cutback of Tell to an annual and the still uncertain future surrounding Time Inc. Ventures' test of Mouth2Mouth. Sassy, down 11.9% this year, hopes finally to bring on board a new financial partner by the end of the month, ending a long search.

Category queen Seventeen was up 3% through July. "Fashion is still very sluggish," said Seventeen group publisher Janice Grossman, "but we're still nearly 200 pages ahead of our nearest competitor [Teen].

Also in that niche, YM finally seems to be coming up with some ad pages gains (up 3.7%) to match its circulation strides.

Joe Mandese coordinates MediaWorks.

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