Fat City Close To Home

While the party may be over for many national magazines battered by the economy’s bearish first quarter, almost all of the top-tier regional titles bucked the trend, posting solid ad-page gains. City magazines showing hefty page increases include Primedia’s New York, which grew 12.4 percent to 596 pages, and Emmis Publishing’s Los Angeles, which jumped 7.1 percent to 224 pages, according to publishers’ figures.

Regionals’ impressive page performance and, conversely, the dramatic decline in national magazines actually has a precedent. This year’s first quarter mirrored the early ’90s, when the country last fell on hard economic times. “Regionals [during the recession] were one of the first categories to show positive gains when [national magazines] were in the negative,” recalls Jim Fitzpatrick, publisher of San Diego and president of the City and Regional Magazine Association (CRMA).

The fact is, city magazines are largely dependent on their market’s own economy. If Texas is booming, Texas Monthly will benefit directly. If national ads take a dive, regional ads can soften the blow. “We are not reliant on just one segment of the advertising community,” says Fitzpatrick.

For the most part, regional books also offer two things that national titles cannot–they highly target the upscale markets they serve, and their ad pages come cheap relative to national titles.

“When advertisers [invest] in national magazines, a lot of the circulation is ‘waste’ if most of their actual sales are coming from major markets, like L.A.,” says Liz Miller, publisher of Los Angeles. “If [upscale advertisers] can find an efficient, cost-effective way to reach those markets, there’s a lot of real sound business reasons for concentrating their efforts where they have the most potential for sales.”

Within their individual markets, local magazines share a symbiotic relationship with consumers. “We’re able to drive traffic into stores,” says Alan Katz, New York publisher. “People respond to the magazine the way they react to newspapers. When they see it, they act on it.”

New York persuaded luxury retailer Henri Bendel to double its ad-page commitment in 2001 because of the success of the weekly’s Girls’ Nite Out Program last fall, which invited select women to in-store fashion shows. Henri Bendel will run 26 in New York this year, Katz says.

Equally important to national advertisers is the lure of a less expensive page rate in regionals. The bulk of the largest city magazines (based on circulation) count at least 40 percent of their ads from national buys. While regional CPMs are often comparable to national magazines–Emmis’ Texas Monthly has a CPM of $100 versus Fairchild Publications’ W’s CPM of $111–the cost savings is in the ad rate itself. A color page in Conde Nast’s 1.1 million circulation Vanity Fair, for example, will cost $97,210, while a color page in 179,039-circ Chicago is $22,000. And while fashion, luxury-retail and travel advertisers may get more bang for their buck in a national magazine, the ability to pinpoint a region like Texas in a local magazine may prove to be more cost-efficient.

Even so, national advertisers tend to use regional magazines as a way to enhance what it is already running nationally elsewhere. “We use local magazines as an addition, not as a replacement for national media,” says Dan Binder, vp/media director of print investment for Starcom Worldwide. “I’m not going to buy Gourmet because I’m going to buy Chicago instead.”

Some media buyers predict that if the economy continues to tumble, city titles may soon feel the pain of their national counterparts. Retail–a key category for regionals–was down in all magazines through February by a whopping 27.9 percent, or $34.5 million, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

“Maybe [regionals] won’t get hit right off the bat, but no magazine is safe,” says Anita Peterson, director of Optimum Magazines, a division of DDB Worldwide. “I just see what’s happening with our clients. [Consumers] are being more fiscally conservative, and it’s going to affect all types of magazines.”

To ward off any softening in the city and regional category, the CRMA, which represents 87 publications, in May will introduce a program offering national advertisers group buys of regional titles. The CRMA, however, has hit a snag. So far, top city titles, including Los Angeles, New York and Texas Monthly, have declined to participate. All three books are backed by deep-pocketed companies that have their own network of regional sales offices. And without their participation, the mid-sized city titles, such as Metrocorp.’s Boston and Washingtonian, will need some convincing. “I think if we can show publishers that [a group buy] expands their opportunities to get business, they’ll participate,” says Fitzpatrick.