Split of Parenting Falls Short of Sales Goals

Bonnier’s Parenting made a bold move this year when it split into two editions, one for new mothers and a second, smaller one for moms of older kids. Striving to stop Parenting’s share loss to Meredith Corp.’s 2-million circ Parents, Bonnier bet it could snag new advertisers by giving them the ability to target their ad buys more narrowly.

The move turned out to be more risky than expected. Parenting magazines, whose core packaged-goods advertisers are still spending, have weathered the recession better than other magazines. This year through July/August, the category declined 11 percent in ad pages, per the Mediaweek Monitor. But Parenting Early Years’ pages fell 26 percent to 435 through August. (The title said Early Years will be essentially flat for its September issue, which will carry 97 pages.)

Parenting vp, group publisher Greg Schumann said the problem wasn’t the editioning concept. “The wild card was the economy,” Schumann said. “There’s a certain degree of risk to change, and the economic conditions accelerated the dynamic of people wanting to take a wait and see.”

Print buyers said that with clients’ budgets slashed, they were reluctant to gamble on an unproven concept with no external readership data to prove the editions are reaching their target. “We’re not going to take risks for our clients,” said Carolyn Dubi, senior vp, print director at Initiative, whose clients include Snapple, Bayer and Kao.

Schumann is convinced readers are embracing the strategy. In 2010, he’ll raise Parenting School Years’ rate base to 550,000 from 500,000, with help from distribution in Barnes & Noble, its first newsstand outlet. Parenting Early Years will stay at 1.65 million, for a combined total of 2.2 million. He also expects to lift the average sub price to $9.65 from $9.35.

Parenting also is taking steps to clean up its circulation. This year, it got rid of analyzed nonpaid copies, the multiple copies distributed mainly in doctors’ offices. While verified (another form of free, public place) still accounts for one-fifth of Parenting School Years’ circ, Schumann said that amount would come down by about 25 percent this year.

But the title still has other issues. Its Web traffic is relatively negligible. And not having its ads’ effectiveness measured this year by Affinity Research’s Vista was an issue for some buyers.

Schumann said Parenting is adopting a new content management system to boost its Web traffic and that the title will be measured by Vista next year after focusing spending on communicating the edition change to readers this year, he said.

Buyers said Parenting also can’t match Meredith’s ability to offer efficiency via deals across its women’s titles. “Corporate deals do come up, and in this economy, they tend to come up a little bit more,” Schumann said.