Magazine Hot List 2010: Top 10

Traditionally, the annual Hot List and 10 Under 60 Hot List recognized those magazines with a track record of standout advertising revenue and page growth. But in light of last year’s industry declines and magazines’ efforts to grow their business via other platforms, ad-page growth alone no longer does justice to magazines’ relevance.

While we didn’t abandon ad pages, we put greater focus on other measures of success this year, including circulation quality, with particular attention to newsstand sales, strength of engagement, smart brand extensions, and ability to find new ways to engage consumers and charge them for content.

The revenue bar hasn’t changed; to qualify for the Hot List, a magazine still must have taken in at least $60 million in annual revenue, while the titles that flesh out the 10 Under 60 List fall below that threshold. So without further ado, here are this year’s Hot Lists…

From print spinoffs (StyleWatch, People Country) to taxi TV to iPhones, People magazine’s brand seems to be everywhere. But even with the glut of celebrity info online, the Time Inc. title remains a powerhouse in print, holding the top spot in ad pages. With high circ prices ($4.12 single copy, $102.73 subscription) and ad response, People is called “the workhorse of the business” as unfaltering growth leads one buyer to say, “There’s something magical about the People franchise.”

Little sis to Men’s Health flexes its brand muscle again, spinning its relevant print content into consumer-paid sidelines including iPhone apps (seven new paid ones); online sub services; and popular Are You Game? event (which adds entry fee in ’10). Last year also brought three new international editions. Core print is strong, too. Revenue’s up 14%; rate base up to 1.5m in Jan/Feb (its sixth hike since ’05 launch); and circ surged 22% in second half.

Frothy events like StarLaunch, Bikini Bash and Fun Fearless Male bring Cosmo franchise to life, but it’s also a juggernaut in print, outselling other leading women’s magazines despite a higher cover price ($4.37). At a time when mass rules, buyers love the scale, events and readers’ passion evoked by sexy standby that, as Scott Brown hardly needed to remind us, has become “part of the vernacular.” Nearly 400 pages in ’09 from new brands, including Walmart beauty and Sun Chips.

EIC Dave Z. leads the (six) pack when it comes to turning out spinoffs people will pay for, from NYT bestsellers to iPhone apps. Its Urbanathlon drew eight sponsors and 5,500 attendees paying a $150 entry fee. With health high on guys’ agenda, MH’s formulaic yet relevant content still sells in print, too. A 6 percent increase in subs at this tip-packed fitness monthly, says one buyer, “defies the notion that men don’t read magazines.”

Its growth may have softened, but this smart British import’s influence on fans and imitators is as strong as ever; subs were up 6% in second half ’09. With its premium circ prices ($6.99 single copy, $103.50 sub), The Economist has established its “own Ivy League status” among competitors, quips a buyer. News/business weekly’s pay-for-quality approach extends to Web, too, where it was early in exploring online paywall models.

It’s tough being a big newsweekly, but SI has held its own in print while fast becoming a digital powerhouse, attracting 331 new brands to SI franchise in ’09. Exploding mobile presence, customizable Web site and online video serve up content the way guys want it, while tablet concept holds promise. Sexy Swimsuit Issue blows out franchise with new sponsored events (Nissan, Sobe) and paid app.
 

Chalk up another PR (personal record) for Runner’s World. Growing interest in the sport leads to gains in circ (up 3%) and audience (up 20%) for Rodale title, which returns to list after five-year absence. Sixty-three new advertisers signed on in ’09 (including Target, Wyndham). RW also gets mileage out of event sponsorships and consumer-paid content as new premium-priced training plan, Marathon Challenge, expands to four races in 2010.

Whopping ad-page growth (11.5% in ’09) has rivals suspecting discounting, but Family Circle strikes a chord in tough times. With edit focus on home, food and ’tween parenting, Meredith title delivers 715,000 average newsstand sales. FC is adding new ways to touch readers outside print, too, including Momster, new social network; and Family Circle of Excellence, a consumer product award program.

Book for the over-40 set enters the zeitgeist as women of a certain age step out of the margins. More’s marathon and Reinvention Convention offshoots, now in three cities, draw thousands seeking inspiration. EIC Lesley Jane Seymour brings renewed energy to title, leading one buyer to dub it “Vanity Fair for women.” Circ grew 4.1% in ’09; paging was up 1.2% with boost from auto, tech and financial advertisers (Chevy, Wells Fargo).

Some call its cover ads a violation of church and state; others say they’re ahead of their time. But there’s no debating Parent & Child’s unconventional marketing moves, strong ad effectiveness scores and Scholastic imprimatur have earned it high marks with A-list advertisers (CVS, Olay), on whose radar it never used to be. Ad pages up eye-popping 9.7% in ’09. Switch to celebrity covers, improved circ transparency and a bold new advertising guarantee bode well for another strong year.

Sources: Publishers Information Bureau, Audit Bureau of Circulations, Affinity, company information.