Memo Pad: Ouch, It Hurts... Holy Smokes...

Magazine publishers are already feeling the pinch from fears of a recession ¿ and many observers expect things to get worse before they get better.

Talk of a possible recession isn't keeping Carlos Lamadrid, vice president and publisher of Woman's Day, up at night. He argued the magazine's core business is relatively resistant to economic woes. "Our big categories are pharmaceutical, beauty and packaged goods and food. Those are all recession-proof. With pharmaceuticals, you're sick, you need your meds, you take them. People will still eat no matter what. We're not talking gourmet, we're talking Kraft and Quaker. And beauty is a luxury that every woman will continue to indulge in. You may not buy a $600 pair of Gucci shoes, but a new lipstick still perks you up." Ad Age last week cited a Deutsche Bank report that found that cosmetics sales decreased 2.2 percent to $790.4 million during the fourth quarter of 2007, with lip treatments dropping 10.9 percent.

Lamadrid did concede that retail is a trickier prospect. "We carry some apparel, but it's been difficult to build that business, because their business is so soft. At the same time, if the consumer who was going more upmarket starts to come back to masstige, that presents an opportunity. Our reader is a Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Kohl's, Target shopper, and shop up toward Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom."

GQ publisher Pete Hunsinger said retail sales are an issue and he sees some advertisers shifting their allocations a little in response. "People are holding off — if they did an eight-page insert last year, maybe they do a four-pager this year," he said. "If they did a spread, maybe they're doing a page."

He added GQ has actually added luxury auto accounts so far this year. The men's title was up a little in January, up 10 percent in February and slightly down in March.

Of course, some publishers expressed reason for optimism. Details publisher Chris Mitchell said after a slow start, his magazine's endemic businesses of fashion and retail "are so far holding or growing." He added the magazine had its best March and April ever this year. And Elle publisher Carol Smith said she's closed four record issues so far, calling upon the old saying that "things are never as good or as bad as they look." She added, "Despite the bleak headlines, luxury marketers — for the most part — haven't given up on consumers."
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