Monday, January 05, 2009

Magazine Advertising Déja Vu

The New York Times had a story yesterday with a headline that sums up the full report: "Prominent Magazines Lose Weight, Shedding Nearly Half Their Ads."

Correspondent Stephanie Clifford writes:

January issues tend to be thin even in good years, and most magazines posted a decline in ad pages. But the average decline across all monthly magazines was only 17 percent, and most Condé Nast magazines fared much worse, according to analysis of Media Industry Newsletter data.

Wired, which is usually thick with consumer electronics ads, was the worst hit, down 47 percent from a year ago to 43.6 ad pages. Architectural Digest fell 46 percent, to 63.2, from 116.8. Vogue and Lucky were both down about 44 percent.

Of the 10 monthlies with the worst declines in January, four were Condé Nast magazines: Wired, Architectural Digest, Vogue and Lucky. It was the only publisher with more than one title in the top 10. The other hardest-hit magazines were Boating, published by Hachette Filipacchi Media; Power & Motoryacht, published by Source Interlink Media; Everyday Food, published by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; Salt Water Sportsman, published by Bonnier Corporation; Texas Monthly, published by Emmis Communications; and Boys' Life, published by the Boy Scouts of America.

The story sounded vaguely familiar, and then I remembered: I was reading almost the same story last night, in the early chapters of a book called George Gallup in Hollywood, by Notre Dame communications professor Susan Ohmer.

In a chapter on Gallup's early days with advertising firm Young & Rubicam, Ohmer writes:
Like many other parts of the economy, advertising suffered from the massive economic slowdown of the early 1930s. Many businesses did not have enough money to advertise their products and this, combined with growing doubts about advertising's effectiveness, caused a dramatic decline in the number of ads published. The amount of money spent on advertising in national magazines dropped by 50 percent between 1929 and 1933, with the largest year-to-year decline occurring in 1931-32, when money spent on magazine ads dropped 30 percent. Not only did magazines publish fewer ads, they published fewer pages altogether. The Saturday Evening Post provides a vivid example. What is considered to be the high-water mark of national advertising occurred on December 6, 1929, when the Post published a 272-page issue that included 168 pages of ads. By contrast, its issue for July 2, 1932, contained only 25 pages of advertising out of a total of 76 pages. Even allowing for the seasonal differences between a Christmas issue and one aimed at summer readers, the decline in both editorial and advertising space is dramatic. Some newspapers could not attract enough advertising to stay in business: Pulitzer's New York World and Hearst's New York American stopped publishing partly for this reason [p. 33; footnotes omitted].
Everything old is new again.

Update: MinOnline, a magazine-industry web site, has an interesting chart showing ad revenues for monthly magazines over the past five years.

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Lisa Romeo said...

If we are lucky enoughy to still have them around, we just need to listen to our elderly family members who lived through that time period, to realize that somehow, people and even businesses do pull through. Changed, but they get through.

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