"We anticipated softness in the first quarter because it was up against last year's first quarter, which was the best growth quarter in 17 years," said James Guthrie, exec VP-director of marketing for Magazine Publishers of America.
The falloff was broad-based. Seven of the top 10 ad categories was down in pages, including No. 1 revenue producer automotive, a category that tumbled 11.8% to 4,712 ad pages. The No. 2 revenue generator, direct response, fell 16.1% to 5,692.
Last year's shining stars in terms of percentage gains, food and computers, also hit the skids in the first quarter, dropping 17.5% and 4.7%, respectively.
Among the bright spots: drugs/remedies jumped 8.6% in pages and publishing/media spending landed in the top 10 thanks to a 9.9% gain in ad pages compared to a year ago. The hope now is that the big categories such as automotive, high tech, telecommunications and those related to fashion have merely delayed spending until later in the year.
Particularly hard hit by the first-quarter falloff were titles published by Hearst Magazines, which adapted controversial rate base cuts and ad price hikes effective with its November issues last year.
For the first quarter, company flagship Good Housekeeping was down 25.5% in pages; Esquire, down 24.4%, Country Living, down 21.8% and Redbook down 18.4%. Sports Afield was off 34.8% in pages.
There were no gainers in the company; the best showing was the three Hearst titles with falloffs of less than 5%: Harper's Bazaar, down 4.7% while among its main rivals Vogue was flat and Elle was up 4.8%, Victoria was down 4.2%; Cosmopolitan was down 8.2%.