Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Seeing light at the end of the tunnel? For some magazine publishers that light it is a train bearing down fast.

In a strange bit of serendipity I was reading a story yesterday afternoon from Crain's New York Business about Vogue's September issue and its startling 23 percent increase in ad pages in its September issue while at the same time counting the ad pages for a recently published trade publication which is, to say the least, on its last legs. The 529 ad pages to be found in the September issue of Vogue is clearly good news for an industry in desperate need of good news. But the less than five pages of paid advertising pages in this unnamed trade book points out the other side of the publishing industry.
Back in February I predicted that 2010 would show some signs of recovery for the leading magazines in both consumer and trade categories, but that the fruits of the read page rebound would only be felt by the leading magazines in each field. It was a vague and fairly general prediction, but one that I think is proving true (I still can't be 100 percent sure, but it feels right).

While the Crain's story does talk about rate cutting and deal making, I think it is fair to say that Vogue is rebounding nicely this year. While its best issue ever was 727 ad pages in 2007, I would say that most publishers would settle for a 23 percent gain in pages and would lose no sleep billing those 529 pages -- discounts or no discounts.

But the other side of the equation, that many other magazines continue to see declines, remains true as well. On Saturday I received two industry magazines that both were anemic. Both were in the same space, and both showed small declines in ad pages, and neither could afford those declines because they were coming off of 2009 where the declines were not at all small.

Then today I leafed through an electronic flipbook issue of a third monthly in the same field. (It wasn't easy since the flipbook would not work properly using my Chrome browser, but I figured out a work around and began counting the ad pages.)

When there is a house ad on page five you know things are not going well. In the end this book was not only down over 2009 levels but was showing an 80 percent decline over 2008. Yikes.

The reasons a rebound in ad pages will not benefit all publishers is simple: fragmentation of advertising continues at a rapid pace. In 2007, last of the decent years of the last decade, Internet advertising was certainly taking some advertisers away from print. But mobile advertising was practically nonexistent compared to where it is today and where it will go over the next few years.

As a result, while the pie that represents total advertising may indeed be getting a bit bigger in 2010, the share of advertising reserved for print magazines may still shrink. The big guys, the Vogues or Esquires of the consumer world, as well as the number one books in many trade industry categories, should see healthy increases this year, but I would not be surprised to see further small but not insignificant declines continue for some struggling magazines, especially in B2B.