Publishers Information Bureau: Magazine ad pages off 3.2%

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Magazines ended 2002 down 3.2% in ad pages. This came on the heels of a 4.9% decline in 2001, and marked the industry's first two-year period of consecutive declines in at least 25 years.

Publishers may accordingly breathe a sigh of relief and look on the bright side. The year-end decline reflects marked improvement over earlier results. At the end of the first quarter, for instance, an ad world still frozen by post Sept. 11 fears left consumer magazines off 14.2% from their 2001 totals.

Many of the magazine industry's bigger names significantly reversed course in the waning weeks of '02. Time Inc.'s People led all titles in the ad page derby, ultimately posting 3,697.9 pages and eking out a 2.4% gain for '02, after hovering in negative territory for much of the year. A strong late year performance, thanks in large part to an ad-fat 85th anniversary issue in December, vaulted Forbes to the No. 2 position and the best showing among the big business titles, after it had trailed McGraw Hill's Business Week and Time Inc.'s Fortune for much of the year. The bellwether category of newsweeklies showed mixed results, with Washington Post Co.'s Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report showing single-digit rises, while Time Inc.'s category leader Time dropped 2.1%.

late-year uptick

These titles, too, substantially reversed uglier early year numbers. But owing to production deadlines, weeklies took a post-Sept. 11 hit almost immediately, and thus benefited from easier comparisons in '02. (In a sign of late-year ad strength being slightly better than expected, many titles previously surveyed by Advertising Age turned in full-year results that exceeded projections provided late last summer.)

A late-year uptick did not cause all boats to rise. Bridal books, which carry a substantial chunk of travel advertising, remained hard hit-at least those within the Conde Nast Bridal Group, as both Bride's and Modern Bride posted 20%-plus declines. (Independent Bridal Guide, though, was down 3.4%.) 2002's booby prize went to Red Herring, which watched its ad pages drop 66.1% to 404.7. (In 2000, Red Herring ran 3,357.9 ad pages.)

Surprising strength was exhibited by the parenting category. All major titles in the space, from Time Inc.'s Parenting to Meredith Corp.'s American Baby to Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Child posted ad page gains. And a wide range of fitness-related titles, from Rodale's Men's Health to Weider Publications (soon to be American Media's) Shape showed gains, with only female-fitness ad page leader Self, published by Conde Nast Publications, posting a slight drop.

The "What Could Have Been" award goes to Gruner & Jahr and Kidro Productions's Rosie, which despite the very public meltdown of its partners notched over a thousand ad pages-a rule-of-thumb measure for a healthy monthly magazine-in its first, and last, full year of publication.

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