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Ad pages surged to a monthly total of 16,051.96 in May, up 6% from the same month a year ago. Year-to-date, this key barometer is now a healthy 3.9% ahead of last year.

"The May results were particularly encouraging with the largest ad revenue increase in five years and the largest [monthly] ad page percentage gain in a decade," said James Guthrie, exec VP-marketing development at the Magazine Publishers of America.

The two hottest categories for the month were computers & office equipment, which turned in a sizzling 34.1% increase in ad pages and drugs & remedies, which surged 18.7%.

After stalling earlier in the year, automotive advertising is finally keeping pace with Detroit's rosy financial reports. For the second month in a row, automotive remained strong, jumping 13.8% compared with a year ago. That pushed the category to $494.3 million for the year to date, up 8.7%.

Most publishers of consumer titles are further cheered because the ad page recovery this year seems to be across the board. Only one category, food, remains behind its year-ago revenue tally.

Riding the wave particularly well are personal finance magazines. "The baby boom generation is saving with a vengenace and mutual fund advertising is soaring," said Knight Kiplinger, publisher and editor-in-chief of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, where ad pages have soared by 21.4% so far this year. SmartMoney, which just moved to monthly frequency last November, is red hot with a 200.5% increase in pages. Archrival Worth is also strong, up 21.4%, in ad pages, while the long established category leader Money is up 6.4% in ad pages.

Overall, direct response companies, which include financial services ads, increased spending by 17.6%.

The recession seems to be lingering surprisingly for several upscale fashion books. Even though toiletries & cosmetics advertising is up 12.6%, retailing is still way down.

Vogue, the Conde Nast flagship, is down 7.9% in ad pages; Harper's Bazaar, after a red hot '93, has cooled off a bit, shedding some 2.3% of its ad pages compared with a year ago. Elle is up 15.5%, but that's measured against a dismal '93.

"I think the category is fine," insisted Ron Galotti, Vogue publisher. "There are a few fewer retailers and manufacturers but you have to look at the volume of pages we do. I do more in a single issue than some magazines do in a year."

By yearend, he expects to be slightly ahead of a year ago. "We're a barometer of the general economy," he said of the category.

W, in its first full year being tracked by PIB, is up 15.2%-gaining 60 ad pages to 447.7 total-compared with a year ago.

Joe Mandese coordinates MediaWorks.

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