Magazine launch: Hearst continues high-end pursuit with new travel title

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Hearst Magazines is planning an October 2003 launch of Town & Country Travel, which the company billed as a vehicle to reach more affluent travelers than the category's top players reach.

The move caps an unusually active year for the company, as well as a recent period in which Hearst has placed more emphasis on high-end audiences. It has touted research positioning its men's title Esquire as a vehicle to reach the luxury-minded-with uncertain results, judging from its 12.3% ad-page decline through October-and earlier this year purchased the high-end shelter title Veranda. Hearst also announced plans to launch a Lifetime-branded title with that cable network and had a developmental dalliance-ultimately fruitless-with Viacom's MTV for a branded magazine.

Cathleen Black, president, Hearst Magazines, deflected notions Hearst specifically wants to target luxury consumers. "I wish I could tell you a grand plan for us to move even [further] into the luxury category," she said. Still she allowed that Town & Country Travel "fits beautifully with Veranda, with Harper's Bazaar, with Esquire-and of course Town & Country" in the portfolio.

Town & Country Travel's launch issue will be sent with an issue of Town & Country to its roughly 370,000 subscribers. Another 150,000 copies will hit newsstands, said Town & Country Publisher Jim Taylor, who will have the same title at the new magazine. Rate base-the guarantee to advertisers-at launch will be the same as Town & Country's 450,000, Mr. Taylor said, as will its one-time full-color page rate of $69,420. After the launch, Ms. Black said, the plan is to go quarterly in '04.

The ultimate frequency has not been decided, she said, although she noted that Veranda has succeeded at a six-times-a-year frequency. Ms. Black also said she expected the new title's circulation to mirror Town & Country's rather than Conde Nast Publication's Conde Nast Traveler: "Half a million, maybe a little larger." (Traveler and American Express Publishing Corp.'s Travel & Leisure boast rate bases of 750,000 and 925,000 respectively.)

The move flies in the face of some of the current perceptions and realities of the magazine world. The recession and post-Sept. 11 fears walloped the travel category for magazines. The category, the third-largest in volume for magazines, is off 8.9% through October. Both Travel & Leisure and Traveler are off double-digits. Newcomer Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, owned by the Washington Post Co., managed a 1.2% ad-page gain. During a year that saw few new magazines, the launch of independent title Budget Living garnered much attention. Two recent entrants into the travel category and relics of the dot-com boom, Travelocity and Ziff Davis Media's Expedia Travels, proved short-lived.

older crowd

Those titles targeted a younger consumer, while Town & Country Travel won't. The editorial positioning "is going to be very high end," said Town & Country Editor in Chief Pamela Fiori, who will also have that title at the new magazine. "It's going to be for the highly seasoned, sophisticated traveler that's been everywhere, and gone every place." Ms. Black said she expected Town & Country Travel would not be "chock-a-block full of service," and Ms. Fiori said she hoped the title would reflect a more literary bent.

There's some doubt among key media buyers concerning the space left for Town & Country Travel in the existing market. "Conde Nast Traveler is writing about $10,000-a-night rooms in Nepal," said Mike McHale, senior principal group media director at Optimedia International, which buys for BMW North America and British Airways. "I don't know how much higher-end hotels go." He did see an audience among those shopping for second homes, an area Ms. Fiori said the magazine would also cover.

Rivals said they're ready for the market-share challenge. "My feeling is the pie is only so big," said Ellen Asmodeo, VP-publisher, Travel & Leisure. "If they want to come after my ad dollars ... it's not going to happen."

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