September Issues See Steep Ad Declines, Worse Ahead

September fashion magazines will drop with a whisper instead of a thud this year.

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For September, publishers pulled out whatever incentives, discounts, retail programs or other techniques to try and increase their businesses, even extending their sales deadlines by weeks to snag last-minute placements and pushing October and November business into September to bulk up that issue.

Some saw brands come back to the September issues after sitting out March, traditionally the second largest of the year. Elle’s 21 percent decline in September was an improvement from the 25 percent drop in the first quarter and 22 percent it lost in the second.

“[Some] advertisers we missed in March that would have run a unit or significant pages then are back [in September],” said Elle associate publisher Anne Welch, who named Blumarine, Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier as examples. For instance, the magazine’s European fashion ad pages shrank by 25 percent in March, but September’s issue will reflect a 15 percent dip from those advertisers.

But October, November and December’s issues are expected to see even steeper ad page declines than those seen in September. “One of my worries is that if I have advertisers on the fence for September, I know that I will have some issues going into October,” said Welch.

With a recovery not predicted until mid-2010 at the earliest, worries over the second half have already reverberated throughout the industry. Almost every media company has closed titles, scaled back staff and trimmed whatever costs they can. On Monday, Condé Nast chief executive officer Charles Townsend detailed in a memo to staffers that the company had hired McKinsey & Co. to develop new business strategies. “We are not immune to the effects of the substantial revenue losses resulting from the deep and prolonged recession,” he wrote.

And aside from the losses on the advertising side, some argue the loss of excitement from marketers this September runs even deeper.

“The markets downsized, the spending downsized and for a publication like Vogue, that multiplies out,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group. “For every dollar that a retailer doesn’t spend, that affects the magazine three times as much. They lose the retail dollar, the brand dollar and the counter [newsstand] dollar.”


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