Memo Pad: One or Two Blips... Movie Buffs...

Financial market turbulence, housing bubble bursts, Bear Stearns collapses — no wonder advertising isn't looking rosy (or that most publishers don't want to go on the record and talk about it).

ONE OR TWO BLIPS: Financial market turbulence, housing bubble bursts, Bear Stearns collapses — no wonder advertising isn't looking rosy (or that most publishers don't want to go on the record and talk about it). As the end of the first half draws near for magazines, business looks soft. Through April, the latest Media Industry Newsletter numbers show ad pages declined for most fashion titles and the unpredictable economy makes it impossible to predict how things will end up by June, much less the entire year. "Across the board, I don't think it's going to be an easy year for magazines, and publishers are bracing for it," said Shape publisher Sabine Feldmann. One thing's for sure: Many titles that boasted about their best years ever in 2007 will face an uphill battle to increase pages during these turbulent economic times.

Despite the gloomy outlook, publishers remain surprisingly (or characteristically?) upbeat, pontificating on how their brands can withstand the downturn, their cleverness in battling the soft economy and their ability to find business underneath any rock. And some even go on the record to estimate they will post strong gains in the first half. Harper's Bazaar's Valerie Salembier says business at the magazine will increase 9 percent by June over the year before (Lamborghini is a new advertiser. Recession? What recession?). House Beautiful vice president and publisher Kate Kelly Smith predicts her title will post an 11 percent gain in ad pages (so much for a housing bust). Meanwhile, several health-related titles are expecting gains, some significant, by June. At Self, Kimberly Kelleher predicts the magazine will boost pages 5 percent through May and close slightly up through June. Events like its May Beauty Awards and its "Workout in the Park" consumer event helped the May issue to be Self's biggest ever. "Luckily I haven't had my heart in my throat," said Kelleher. "We are really bucking the trend right now. I couldn't pledge that this will continue through the year."

Women's Health brought in 68 more ad pages through April compared with last year, and is poised to increase May's ad page total over last year (publisher Mary Murcko said she just started selling the June issue). Shape, which also had its best year ever in 2007, will post slight gains for the first half, thanks in part to a monster May issue, where the magazine welcomed new advertisers Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz, to name a few. On the men's side, Men's Journal, which is seeing strong spending from imported cars and pharmaceuticals, is expecting pages to increase by 16 percent by the end of the first half. Publisher Will Schenck said the magazine's special health and fitness February issue drove a lot of business. But he also has had to work a little harder: Schenck admitted Men's Journal can court more advertisers than others because it discounts pages (of course, any publishing company that is able to do corporate buys — including Condé Nast, Hearst and Time Inc. — offer "incentives" to major advertisers when possible. Just don't call it discounting). — Stephanie D. Smith
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