Looking to rebuild: G&J to cut rate base for 'YM' by 25

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Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's YM will slash its rate base 25% as part of what it bills as a wide-ranging relaunch of its tattered teen title.

The magazine has struggled through a dreadful 2004, as it deals with an overcrowded category and fallout from advertisers angered over severe overstatements of newsstand sales. Through its April issue, according to Media Industry Newsletter, its ad pages are down 44.5% to 176.4.

`nobody makes money'

Insiders report YM was unprofitable in 2003, even before its current ad skid. Axel Ganz, G&J's interim CEO, would not comment on YM's financials, but said currently among U.S. teen titles "nobody makes money. Maybe one [does]." (A spokesman for Hearst Magazines said both its teen titles are profitable. Spokesmen for other teen titles declined to comment.)

Effective with its August 2004 issue, the title's rate base will be 1.5 million, down from the current 2 million. After revelations last year that YM had overstated its average first-half 2001 newsstand sales by almost 200,000 copies, last April G&J cut its rate base to 2 million from 2.2 million. Insiders said a rate base reduction to 1.5 million was debated internally months ago, but was rejected at the time owing to concerns over potential ad revenue declines.

The rate-base cut comes as a remake of the title is underway, courtesy of incoming Editor in Chief Linda Fears, who was plucked from her deputy editor perch at G&J's Parents. The changes aim the title at what Ms. LaBarge termed "a 19-year-old mindset." In real terms, the revamped YM, which will hit in full with its August issue, means a more toned-down color palette with fewer pinks, and what Creative Director Amy Demas said was a more "gridlike" approach to page layouts, rather than the noise and clutter that typifies teen magazines. Newly named sections like "Your Private Life" and "Your Style," and recurring sub-sections like "Guyville" and "Ask The Shrink," have been added.

dropping frequency

The title will also drop its frequency to 11 times a year by combining its December and January issues, and add a newsstand-only prom-themed issue in late December. Marketers will get their first glimpses of the new YM this week.

YM's makeover comes after G&J all but imploded in 2003. It was caught significantly overstating newsstand sales at its joint venture title Rosie and took further hits from its embarrassing and public legal battle with entertainer Rosie O'Donnell. President-CEO Dan Brewster was ousted in January, and Chief Marketing Officer Cindy Spengler followed in February.

It's been a bumpy time for YM as well. Its past editor-in-chief, Christina Kelly, resigned abruptly Feb. 20 following a meeting in which interim Mr. Ganz slammed the magazine for, among other things, being unfriendly to advertisers. At the time of her resignation, Ms. Kelly was about to show Mr. Ganz her own redesign for the title. But Ms. Fears, who officially started on March 1, said she'd been directed by Parents Editor In Chief Sally Lee-a former YM editor who just added the title of YM's Editorial Director to her portfolio-to begin thinking through her own version of YM in early February.

YM "was trying to be all things to all teens," said Ms. Fears, who said that Mr. Ganz felt the magazine was not "attractive or "sophisticated." Her idea: "Focus on these older girls. The younger ones will always read up."

Assuming all teen girls still read. The teen category exploded when Time Inc.'s Teen People launched in 1997, and all the other top publishers have since chimed in with me-too takes: Conde Nast Publications' Teen Vogue, Hearst's CosmoGirl, and Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.' Elle Girl. But the category hit a wall last year. Teen People, CosmoGirl, and Hearst's category leader Seventeen all missed rate base in the last half of 2003. Seventeen and Teen People also recently cut rate base, although nowhere near as severely as YM.

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