Weak Tech, Retail Drive Down Magazine Ad Pages

Microsoft, Target among accounts pulling back on print

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The magazine industry is getting off to a rocky start in 2014. While magazine ad pages declined in large part thanks to weakness in two key advertising categories, the tide also appears to have turned for tablet advertising, one of the lone bright spots in recent years.

Print magazine ad pages fell 4 percent in the first quarter of 2014, according to the latest report from the Publishers Information Bureau, a division of the MPA—The Association for Magazine Media. Meanwhile, tablet ad units across the 56 magazines with digital editions measured by the PIB fell 7 percent. (Half of that decline, however, was due to a decline in tablet units at a single non-MPA member title.)

MPA president and CEO Mary Berner said that most of the ad page loss—nearly two-thirds in total—was driven by a steep decline in tech and retail advertising, and much of that decline was due to three particular companies' changing advertising strategies. Microsoft, which had inflated the tech category's 2013 numbers with its major advertising push around a product launch, pulled back significantly this year, while on the retail side, both Target and J.C. Penney have slashed advertising budgets.

“There were pockets of strength and pockets of challenges,” said Berner. “When you look across 196 magazines, one of the biggest declines, in retail, was due to two accounts pulling back. There’s a lot of noise underneath the numbers both good and bad.”

Women’s service magazines, many of which have undergone recent redesigns in an effort to maintain relevance with modern readers, were hit hard. Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens, Redbook, Family Circle, Woman’s Day, Ladies’ Home Journal and All You all saw ad pages decline around 20 percent or more. The more lifestyle-oriented titles weren’t immune, either: ad pages at Martha Stewart Living dropped a steep 35 percent.

While fashion magazines have been a relatively strong category in recent years (in ad pages, at least; they’ve had some well-documented newsstand troubles), this quarter was a mixed bag. Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, InStyle and Glamour all increased their ad pages (the latter by 12 percent, a testament to the success of Glamour’s recent Anna Wintour-led revamp), while category stalwarts Vogue and Elle both saw slight declines, as did W and Allure. Harder hit were Teen Vogue (down 17 percent), Lucky (down 20 percent despite having received its own Wintour makeover last year) and People StyleWatch (down 22 percent).

Even the food category suffered. Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Saveur and Food & Wine all saw ad page declines in the single digits, while Food Network magazine dropped 16 percent.

It wasn’t all bad news, though. Shelter magazines appear to be experiencing a resurgence thanks to some significant growth in home furnishings advertising. Architectural Digest, Traditional Home, Veranda, Coastal Living and Dwell all significantly boosted their ad pages, while the fast-growing HGTV Magazine was up an impressive 24 percent. The travel category was also strong, as evidenced by Condé Nast Traveler (up 12 percent), Travel + Leisure (up 15 percent) and Afar (up 33 percent).

Other bright spots in the first quarter included Essence (up 21 percent), Car and Driver (up 23 percent), Inc and Health (both up 24 percent) and Playboy (up 60 percent).

@adweekemma emma.bazilian@adweek.com Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.