Magazine Hot List 2009: Editor’s Note

As editor, Fast Company’s Robert Safian looks for stories with an element of fun, surprise and overcoming adversity. He need not look further than his own magazine. Fast Company was widely written off for dead when Gruner + Jahr put the onetime media darling on the block back in 2005. But Morningstar founder (and white knight) Joe Mansueto bankrolled a dramatic advertising and circulation turnaround. Key to that success was Safian, AdweekMedia’s Editor of the Year, who reestablished the business book as the authority on innovation while reviving a stodgy category. As the nation looks towards a recovery, a magazine about innovation that will drive that recovery would appear well-positioned for growth itself.

At Rodale, our Executive of the Year MaryAnn Bekkedahl is driving innovation in her own way. In leading her sales teams to create 360-degree, client-friendly deals, the executive vp, group publisher has driven better-than-average results for the health and fitness information publisher while showing that bigger isn’t always smarter. And takes honors as Magazine Web Site of the Year for setting itself apart as a must-read among technophiles by doing what the Web does best—harnessing user-generated content.

And now, for the Hot List. You’re no doubt asking yourselves, as we did: How does one define hot in an industry that’s getting clobbered? With magazines folding left and right, our job was just a little tougher than usual this year. Still, we rejected the suggestion that there are no hot magazines, despite our nostalgia for the days when flat was called “the new up.” It’s worth remembering that in the last ad downturn, many brands on the 2002 Hot List showed revenue and ad drops from the year before. Then, as now, year-over-year ad-page growth is only one of many criteria of the judging process.

This year, even more than in years past, we asked: “What makes a title vital in a time of shrinking ad budgets and consumer spending?” For answers, we looked at how titles performed on an absolute basis, as well as relative to their category, their vulnerability to the Web, and how well they’ve put digital and other media platforms to use. Signs of life at the newsstand, which has taken a walloping this past year, also spoke to a title’s vitality. Finally, we isolated those magazines that have relevance in today’s economy and—assuming an eventual recovery—are well-positioned to grow.

We were intrigued to find the top names of both our Hot List and the 10 Under 60 list hail from the U.K. (Cue our collective American insecurity that anyone with a British accent must be smarter than us.) The Economist, with its spot-on coverage of global affairs and business, delivers on all counts, landing it at the No. 1 spot for the second year in a row. Fellow Brit The Week, whose scaled-down, short-attention-span version of the newsweekly has been a hit with readers and advertisers, tops the 10 Under 60 list, for its reader-friendly take on the news.

Fleshing out the lists are titles that serve up comforts to which consumers are retreating, like food, health and entertainment, including such newcomers as Every Day with Rachael Ray and Women’s Health as well as the return of People after a two-year absence. (For past years’ Hot Lists as well as a raft of magazine-related data and charts that are only available online, go to Mediaweek’s Special Reports page.) Turn the page for a section we hope will surprise, provoke and get you talking.

–Lucia Moses, senior editor, Mediaweek