The Ad/Edit Balancing Act

With advertisers placing fewer pages in print, the proportion of pages devoted to advertising declined in most magazines in 2008. New data from Hall’s Reports, a leading provider of magazine content analysis, offer another indication of magazines’ slipping fortunes.

The findings dovetail with new data from Publishers Information Bureau showing that for 2008, rate-card reported ad revenue and pages declined 7.8 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively.

The percentage of ad pages in magazines has ranged between 45 percent and 51 percent over the past 10 years, according to Magazine Publishers of America. In 2007, advertising was 47 percent of all magazine pages, up from 45 percent in 2001 but down from 51 percent in 1997. The industry ad/edit ratio is likely to dip in ’08, when many titles’ advertising as a share of all pages went down by one to three percentage points, per Hall’s data.

The magazines showing the biggest declines in 2008 included ones that were already marked as struggling and, in some cases, ended up shutting down. In 2008, advertising in Hearst Magazines’ erstwhile CosmoGirl was 36 percent of pages, down 6 percentage points from 2007.

Other big decliners included Condé Nast’s Cookie and Wenner Media’s Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone publisher Will Schenck pointed out that when the music title adopted a smaller page format in fall 2008, it increased the number of edit pages, which, along with a decline in ad pages, contributed to the ratio change.

Cookie’s vp, publisher Carolyn Kremins said revenue growth last year enabled Cookie to add edit pages. And SmartMoney reduced its direct response advertising, which helped tilt the ratio, publisher Bill Shaw said.

Of the few publications that increased their ratio of ads-to-edit content last year, some were young titles that were still in growth mode or in transition. Time Inc.’s three-year-old People Style Watch grew its ad content to 42.2 percent from 37.7 percent. Rodale’s Best Life, which started in 2004, grew its ad content to 40.6 percent from 38.7 percent. At Fast Company, which Mansueto Ventures bought three years ago, ad content grew 5.1 percentage points to 42.8 percent last year.

If there’s a bright side to declining ad portions, it’s that it could actually please marketers who fret about their messaging being seen in a title dominated by ads.

“You worry about getting lost in the pile,” said Bill Bell, group media strategy director, Lowe New York, adding that if ad content went above 60 percent, “it certainly would raise an eyebrow.”