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Fueling Magazines’ Failures

July 20th, 2009 No comments

As September drop-deads are upon us, I’m hearing a lot about tumbling circulations and ad pages continuing to fade from magazines.  While it’s true that advertising budgets are trending downward, we have to remember that this started long ago.  Before big government bailouts, unemployment surges, mass foreclosures, and the fall of the auto industry, the once booming magazine industry has been quietly suffering.

The strength of magazines didn’t take such an immediate pummeling from things like the mass adoption of the internet as it’s printed sibling newspapers did.  But as more consumers’ dollars were allocated to cell phones and broadband connections, magazines began to see circulations decrease.  In early desperation, some publications falsified audit reports or inflated verified circulations, dumping titles in unnecessary public places.  They began to lose the faith of their advertising partners, and some began to close.

Planners paying attention began demanding cleaner circulations along with deeper discounts, free space, premium placement, product integration, cross-platform opportunities.  With the negative press, they had to deliver greater ROI to clients.  Even titles which had historically refused to negotiate began making “special exceptions” and “finding loopholes.”

While a great value for clients and making the negotiator look like hot-stuff, the additional decrease in revenue only fueled magazines’ woes.  Combined with the economy’s hard fall, titles both young and old began to announce last issues.  Those same planners once considered savvy are now finding themselves knocked for buying “cheap space” in a title that didn’t survive.  (Shameless Plug: Check out Magazine Death Pool for more dirt.)

Today, clients are uncertain of budgets, don’t trust signing annual plans and don’t know which title is going to be cut next.  Their lower budgets are still forcing even higher ROI expectations, yet the lack of commitment means positioning can rarely be negotiated, decreasing the medium’s value.  Of course, that means they’ll need to balance that loss with even bigger discounts and more free pages.

As a media planner, I jokingly used to say that I was a “media fundraiser” to folks not in advertising.  (Lest I be asked, again, if I write the commercials.)  Today, I wonder if I should’ve spent more time focusing on getting those funds approved, and a little less time doing multiple rounds of negotiations with titles I was forcing out of business.

Marie’s spotlight

September 13th, 2008 No comments

I’ll admit it: “Marie Claire” fell off my radar for a while. After they had some circulation woes that put them under a microscope a few years ago, we (media folk) kind of talked them to death. We love drama, but it was almost too much negative. After a while, I lost interest. 

Today, their circulation headlines aren’t looking much better. Looking at first-half 2008 numbers, they’re down significantly in newsstand sales (-12.1%!) which is almost 30% of their circulation. Although their % of paid subscriptions is climbing through initiatives they’ve invested in (a gift with purchase program with a major beauty brand and online subscriber notices, beyond transition from newsstand to subscriber growth with inbook cards). It could be more organic, but still, not a bad tactic on their part. They only missed their 950M rate base once in the last six months according to their most recent ABC statement; again, not bad, considering the “less down is the new flat” theory floating around magazine circulations these days.

So when they came to KC for a visit a few weeks ago, I was interested to hear an update.

I got the general overview of the book and the vast changes that have happened since I’d picked it up last. It looked good. But it wasn’t the page layout or the section headers that caught my attention. There was something hanging out there that struck me: the magazine’s pick for a new fashion director, Project Runway’s and ex-“Elle” Fashion Director/Editor-at-Large, Nina Garcia.

Celebrities sell; it’s an obvious truth demonstrated by the number of not only celebs on covers, but directly in titles (Oprah, Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray). Garcia’s no Paula Abdul (just in size of fame.. in other ways, Abdul’s no Garcia!), but she’s still known for her judging skills on “Project Runway.” (That’s what I’ve heard, anyway. I’m, admittedly, not a viewer of the show.)

Garcia only started after Labor Day, and already, “Marie Claire” has put on the gloves. While “Elle” has the CW Network working on “Stylista” for an October debut, “Marie” now has “Running in Heels” set to premier in March 2009. It’s a weekly reality show that will follow 15 fashion editors and staff of the magazine and air on The Style Network. It’ll be interesting (for us media geeks) to see how they compare in ratings once they both have had a few weeks of air time (with “Stylista” having a slight Broadcast advantage over “Running”).

Being more of a magazine consumer (personally) these days than a television junkie (a sad side-effect of having kids; I no longer watch much programming that I’m interested in. ..No offense to SproutTV), I’m more interested to see if there is a halo effect that helps “Marie Claire”‘s circulation. I wonder if it will help rebound newsstand sales or if this does anything to help their subscriber base increase more organically. While not many publications have released editorial calendars for 2009, I suspect that their editorial plans will include some sort of self-promotions.

This’ll be my kind of “March madness.” Can’t wait!