April 17, 2014 Last Updated 7:46 am

Behind the data: consumer magazine ad pages fall 4%, but some titles show strength

Notice: This post should have appeared yesterday, but due to router/server issues at the hosting service TNM was offline for large portions of the day.

The latest ad pages reports from the consumer and B2B magazine industries were a cold slap in the face to those still hoping for a recovery. As usual, though, there is more to the numbers than simply a wholesale decline in print advertising.

Wired-cover-4-2014The Publishers Information Bureau (PIB) report for Q1 shows ad pages down 4 percent, while revenue was down 1.6 percent. As a former magazine publisher, I generally discount any attempt at calculating revenue due to the fact that most rate increases do not fall to the bottom lime – though if this number were equal to the ad page percentage it would be a sign that few publishers have increased their rates year-over-year (so, in this regard, a smaller decline is still good news).

In B2B, ad pages declined 6.4 percent for 2013, and with the BIN report at least a quarter behind the numbers reported for consumer titles, we won’t know until at least June what the first quarter looked like for trade magazine publishers (though the consumer numbers are not a good sign).

But as is usually the case, the declines seen in consumer titles was not across the board. While the report looks dire when seen at a glance, it is clear that some titles continue to maintain their ad pages, or even saw small increases. What’s going on?

Three years ago I predicted that the rise of digital media, and tablet editions in particular, would result in the top magazines being able to continue to report strong ad page results, while titles that are not leading their categories would find it hard to get advertisers to stay on board. I’m not sure tablet editions have helped drive new advertising, and the absence of new agencies committed to digital tablet advertising is disappointing.

But it is true that, for the most part, top tier magazines remain strong. Condé Nast’s magazines appear to have had decent Q1s: Vogue was down 1.4 percent, Wired up 0.8 percent, W was down 6.6 percent, Glamour was up 11.6 percent, Self was down 17.3 percent (ouch), but Condé Nast Traveller was up 11.6 percent, and so on. The same up and down pattern can be seen at Hearst.

It would nice to place a blanket over the whole industry and come to some sort of conclusion as to what the future will hold for the rest of 2014, but I think that would be generalizing. Many of the titles showing poor results have issues of management and sales leadership, while other titles (such as The Atlantic) may be seen their brands increase in awareness due to things beyond simply print advertising.

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