W2W: What to Watch - The Fall Of Martha Stewart, The Tough Go Shopping, Maturation Or Saturation?, The Primitivist Movement

Picking up after Martha…Trying to get Lucky…Sink or swim for the celebrity weeklies and lad magazines…Nothing slick about these mags.

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Here’s hoping 2003 will be the last year for a while that the magazine industry would rather forget. While not nearly as depressing as the preceding two years, when the post-bubble hangover gave way to terror, the tumultuous events of 2003 — including a war and more whispered threats from abroad — meant the best most publishers could do was not fall any farther. But in 2004, they can expect to start the climb back up.

It’s an Olympic year and an election year, and due in part to both of those, it looks to be a rebound one for advertising and, by extension, magazine publishers. Here’s WWD’s look ahead at some of the stories that will drive the magazine business in 2004.

The Fall Of Martha Stewart

Whether or not Stewart is found guilty of obstructing justice or conspiracy (just two of five counts against her), 2004 could be the year that the growing number of aspirants to her throne finally do her in. While the pack of journalists on her trail keeps asking if anyone besides themselves (and prosecutors) care about her legal woes, her eponymous empire is undeniably declining.

Martha Stewart Omnimedia predicted ad pages would fall by 40 percent in the fourth quarter, and they had fallen 33 percent for the year through November. And for one reason or another, Stewart’s readers are deserting her — the rate base for Martha Stewart Living’s January issue now on newsstands is just 1.8 million, down from 2.3 million this fall. Executives at her company have already warned that a turnaround is not imminent. And Stewart’s own hands are full, of course, with her criminal trial, which is slated for or around Jan. 22 and is sure to reignite her bad press.

Meanwhile, Hearst and Time Inc. are ready to bring their full weight to bear on Stewart’s domain, the former with its own living brand, Oprah, and the latter with the reassuringly anonymous Real Simple (which has already spat out two editors and is still gaining speed). Both properties are set to outflank the Martha brand in 2004 as well as fight it head-on. Hearst has re-upped Oprah shelter foray O at Home, which was polybagged this year and next year will be two freestanding issues. Real Simple is ready to roll out a raft of brand extensions, starting with its first book, Real Simple Home.

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