Rating the Newbies: The World Is Flat

Gauging the performance of a raft of magazines with new editors including Bon Appetit, Newsweek and W.

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W magazine

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The New York Times Style Magazine

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Stefano Tonchi has been in charge for more than a year at W and the magazine had a 4.8 percent ad gain for the half, with third-quarter results expected to match that, said publisher Nina Lawrence. W, which doesn’t sell many copies off the newsstand, is down 9.4 percent in single copy sales.

Then there’s Tina Brown’s Newsweek. Whatever buzz the magazine has acquired, the magazine is down 27 percent in ad pages for the first half, and, more significantly, was down 24.5 percent in the second quarter, after the magazine was Tina-fied. (This compares the magazine with Jon Meacham’s much-maligned iteration of Newsweek during a time when the Washington Post Company revealed the magazine was up for sale).

Newsweek publisher Ray Chelstowski said ads are rebounding and that July and August are looking flat, which is the first time in over a year the magazine could claim that, he said.

However, there has been some traction on the newsstand. For the year, the newsweekly is up 2.8 percent and since the redesign was launched in March, it is up 7.4 percent, according to data Newsweek is set to submit to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Josh Tyrangiel’s Bloomberg BusinessWeek posted encouraging news with a 15.8 percent jump in ad pages through the first half of the year. Additionally, the magazine said it plans to increase paid circulation to 980,000 from 900,000 next year; a vote of confidence for growth in the magazine. Newsstand, where the magazine doesn’t sell much, has suffered, going down 34 percent in the first half.

The New York Times magazines brought in two new editors — Sally Singer and Hugo Lindgren. Lindgren’s Sunday Magazine had a thorough redesign, and Singer’s T has been dramatically retooled. After a strong first quarter — the magazines as a group collected more than 10 percent in ad pages — they finished the half eking out a 2.7 percent gain.

So after analyzing this slew of data, what lessons can be drawn?

“I think the challenge is that advertisers have moved on from some of those books as budgets have dwindled,” said George Janson from the ad buyer Group M, which includes Chanel, Jaguar and Ikea among its clients. “Before they might have been willing to take a chance with a new editor. But more advertisers are taking a wait-and-see approach.”

That is, a year or two ago, many of these magazines weren’t given much of a chance of survival by advertisers. But taking BusinessWeek as a model, which Janson hailed as “one of the best redesigns of the last few years,” then there is hope. In Tyrangiel’s first year as editor, there was a modest 3 percent jump for the year in ad pages. This year, through the first half, it’s nearly 16 percent better. Then again, not every publisher will have as much patience as Bloomberg.

Bon Appétit editor Rapoport buys into the theory that despite the semislow starts, patience is needed.

“When I talked to [Condé Nast editorial director] Tom Wallace when we were getting ready to put out this magazine he said, ‘I know you’re going to put a lot of stock into your first issue. I’m not,’” said Rapoport. “The point being that you’re in this for the long haul. It’s not where you are in the first two months of a relaunch. It’s where you are a year or two down the road. It’s about building momentum, building trust with advertisers, building trust with old readers and new readers. To think you’re gonna come in and be up 30 ad pages in one month? It’s unrealistic.”


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