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MIND WRITERS: The public’s latest obsessions have driven the country’s hottest magazines By Eric Garlan

Think Garth Brooks. Think grunge, mountain climbing, yo-yo dieting. Think delivery room etiquette, laser disc

Their ad pages are swelling and their circulations are growing steadily, enough to place them on ADWEEK’s annual roll call of the hottest consumer magazines.
Magazines can adapt fastest of all media to emerging trends, gathering a like-minded audience and showering attention, in-depth features and arty photos on the subject.
Such is the lesson of the two books that top our lists. Country America has plowed its way into the ranks of major magazines with three years of rapid growth. The Meredith publication, which began as a program guide for cable’s The Nashville Network, has leaped from $4.8 million to $13.7 million in ad sales since 1990 and is guaranteeing 1 million circulation this year, 30% ahead of 1991’s figure. It has done so by reaching deep into the hearts of Middle America – a fertile field that often goes unsown by flashy New York publishing houses.
Like Conde Nast, which went as far from Middle America as possible with its acquisition of the downtown rag Details in 1990. Backed by Conde Nast’s house style and resources and informed by editor James Truman’s arch sensibility, Details has emerged as the industry’s hottest small magazine. It won’t be small much longer at its present pace. Revenues exploded to $8.2 million last year (up 124%) while circulation jumped 77%. Details has laid claim to another hard-to-reach element: the youngish male who likes fashion, women, and me-too alienation so much that he hardly has time to read staid old magazines.
Except one that gives him precisely that. Some repeaters from last year have the look of hardy perennials. Parenting and Child continue their adolescent growth spurts, with Time Inc.’s Parenting now having made the Top 10 list three years in a row. Both benefit, of course, from the babies spewing forth from the baby boom generation, and both showed ad revenue gains of nearly 50% last year.
Another Time Inc. product, Entertainment Weekly, returns to the list on the strength of some $10 million more in ad revenues and a circulation galloping past 1 million. Its ad pages were flat last year, only because the startup magazine no longer needs to discount its rates. Advertisers want in.
On the high end of the celebrity spectrum, Vanity Fair continued to draw desirable readers and seductively scented ads. Tina Brown’s successor, former Spymaster Graydon Carter, must do likewise. Soap Opera Digest sops up folks on the low end of glitz. For anti-glitz (in subject matter, not its own design, which is stylish), Outside remains the pace-setter for neo-naturalists.
While Bill Clinton promises to ‘focus like a laser beam’ on the economy, subscribers to The Economist and Financial World have been far ahead of him. The London-based weekly made its third consecutive appearance on the Top 10 list, as its fact-crammed survey of the world and business keep it a standout in its field. Ad revenues were up 33% last year, to $31 million.
Financial World has shown less steady form; it crashed in ’91 but rebounded so strongly last year – a 58% revenue gain – that it qualified.
Among the small books, two disparate camps hold sway. On one side are the smart-aleck, city-dwelling, irresponsibly young likes of Spin, Sassy and Spy. On the other side are sober-minded mature types drawn to the pure, wide-open spaces of Walking, Backpacker, Health, American Health and Cooking Light.
There’s room for everybody in magazine country.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)