Top 300 revenue a record $32.5 bil.

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The nation's top 300 magazines generated gross revenue of $32.49 billion, up 5.9%, from advertising and circulation in 2003. That's a new high for the industry, passing the previous mark of $31.23 billion set in 2000. In between have been two down years dulled by recession and the dot-com crash.

Time Warner pulled off a trifecta as its weeklies, People, Sports Illustrated and Time from its Time Inc. division, nabbed the top three spots with $1.24 billion, $936.2 million and $920.8 million in gross revenue, respectively, according to Advertising Age's Magazine 300 report.

People also led all magazines in gross ad revenue at $751 million, up 5.2%, while TV Guide paced the Magazine 300 in gross revenue from circulation at $541.1 million, a decline of 2%, due to a 21.5% drop in newsstand sales. Time slipped into No. 3, replacing the Gemstar-TV Guide International publication, now No. 4 in total gross revenue at $916.6 million, up 1.3%.

Broken down, magazines showed $22.96 billion in ad revenue, up 7.6%, and $9.53 billion in circulation, up 0.9%. Gross ad revenue was slightly affected by a restatement by Publishers Information Bureau of 2003 ad revenue for its magazines without adjusting 2002 figures. The restatement did not affect ad pages. PIB is the source of much of this report's consumer magazine ad data. As a result, Ad Age does not show year-to-year gross revenue growth in this report.

Ad pages gain 0.9%

Ad pages rose 0.9% in 2003 for the Top 300 to 345,502. Monthlies, accounting for 182 of the Top 300 titles, grew 2.3% in ad pages as weeklies (62 magazines) declined 2.7% and fortnightlies ended the year virtually as they started, down 0.1%. The uptick for monthlies is the first year-to-year page growth for any frequency category since 2000. Overall, magazines in 2003 were abetted by ad page growth from autos (up 9.7%), drugs & remedies (up 10.9%), home furnishings (6.8%) and toiletries & cosmetics (4.5%), according to PIB.

The ad page count in 2003 remains short of 2000 levels in several leading magazine categories: apparel, food, media & advertising, retail, financial, insurance & real estate and travel, hotels & resorts, direct response and technology. PIB data show all seem to be making comebacks this year except for direct response and technology.

Consumer magazines, which account for 70% of all ad pages of the Top 300, grew 2.1% in ad pages; business publications slipped 1.8%, the continuation of a long slide that began immediately after magazines hit their previous high-water mark for ad pages in 2000.

The first eight months of 2004 have been flat, up 1.2% in ad pages, according to the 237 consumer and Sunday magazines monitored by PIB, most of which are among the Top 300. Publishers remain optimistic about higher growth in ad pages for the second half. Indeed, ad pages have grown in each month since May compared with the prior-year period.

Business publications so far in 2004 advanced 0.4% in ad pages through July, according to the Business Information Network unit of the American Business Media association. Ad revenue was up 1.6%, says BIN in predicting slightly higher page and ad revenue growth the rest of the year.

women's titles the backbone

The women's category, containing the largest number of publications in a Magazine 300 category at 37, advanced 7.5% in page growth. Only travel magazines among the top 10 categories surpassed that page growth, at 10.9%. Women's magazines are the backbone of the Top 300, accounting for 12% of the group's total ad pages.

Among the larger women's magazines, Meredith Corp.'s Ladies' Home Journal grew the most in ad pages (up 24.3% to 1,510) followed by Hearst Corp. Magazine Division's Good Housekeeping at 1,688, up 10.5%. Time Inc.'s InStyle continued to collect the most ad pages in the women's category at 3,045, up 0.5%.

The computer/Internet class of 17 magazines remained flat at 26,153 ad pages, second in size to women's, but a far cry from the computer/Internet's 76,761 pages generated by 30 publications in 2000. The dot-com crash and recession sapped much of the energy from this category. In fact, 14 of the segment publications in 2000 no longer exist. In 2000, they accounted for 35,000 ad pages.

The third largest ad page category was home service & home at 20,566, up 0.9%, for 24 magazines. The category ad page volume leader was Meredith's Better Homes & Gardens at 2,117, up 10.8.

The Top 300 recorded a 5.6 million net gain in circulation, the kind most publishers crave-paid subscribers. Subs rose 2.6% to 323.8 million as newsstand sales slipped 5.6% to 42.1 million copies, resulting in a 1.8% gain in circulation gross revenue.

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