NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Magazine publishers have long been feeling left out in the cold amid a resurgent advertising market.
They should be feeling a bit warmer now. According to 2004 figures released Monday by the Publishers Information Bureau, the industry posted its highest ad gains in four years, according to figures released Monday by the Publishers Information Bureau.
The bureau, which tracked advertising at some 235 magazines -- from Newsweek to Nexos -- announced that rate-card-reported advertising revenue increased 11.1 percent, to more than $21 billion, in 2004. Ad pages grew nearly 4, to more than 234,000 total pages.
Meanwhile, overall advertising spending across all media in 2004 was up 6.3 percent, to $181 billion, according to a recent report from Jack Myers, an independent media industry analyst.
While it appears that magazine ad growth beat industry levels, experts caution that the rate-card-reported revenues are misleading because publishers frequently negotiate ad deals that are priced as much as 25 to 50 percent below their official, or rate-card, rates, says Martin Walker, a veteran New York-based magazine consultant.
A far more accurate barometer of the industry's health are ad pages. Walker says it's safe to assume that actual ad revenues grew at about the same rate, or 3.8 percent, in 2004 as ad pages.
Modest growth, no single driver
Media analysts offered different reasons for why the magazine industry has struggled in recent years. For one thing, they note that there's always a lag between the beginning of an economic recovery and a resurgent magazine ad market. That's because magazines require a far longer lead time for ad buys than, say, television or newspapers.
Myers says too that the industry slumped four years ago not just because of the economic recession but also a decade-long decline in ad rates brought on by increasingly cost-conscious marketers.
"They hit a low on their pricing and discounting about three years ago," said Myers. At that point, he says, publishers became increasingly savvy about attracting advertisers. "This was the first year they began to capitalize on that creativity."
Myers and other media analysts agreed that 2004 stood out in the magazine world because, unlike past years, no single genre dominated.
"What's missing is an enormously hot category to pull the whole industry ahead," said Walker. He noted how the technology industry fueled an industry-wide ad boom in the late 1990s (and, when the tech market slumped, helped kill a handful of high-tech magazines, among them Industry Standard and the recently-revived Red Herring).
Last year's overall growth -- and the declines -- came from all manner of magazine titles. Posting the biggest increase was Organic Style, with an 81 percent year-over-year increase jump in ad pages. The Rodale title doubled its ad revenues.
Also reporting huge ad page gains were, in order, Teen Vogue, Scientific American, Harper's Bazaar, and Nick Jr. Family Magazine. Nick Jr. is a Viacom (up $0.48 to $38.14, Research) title for parents with young kids.
The technology sector continued to be cautious about ad spending in 2004. Of all the industries tracked by the Publishers Information Bureau, only technology spent less last year. Spending by tech companies came to $116 million in 2004, down 17 percent from the year before.
That falloff, however, impacted technology pubs differently. Fast Company from Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing saw ad pages decline 21 percent while Business 2.0, its main competitor and a Time Warner publication, posted a 24 percent gain in ad pages (CNN/Money is owned by Time Warner (up $0.15 to $19.05, Research)). Meanwhile, traditional business magazines like 'Forbes' and 'Fortune' both posted solid gains of more than 11 percent in ad pages.
The rising tide in 2004 also failed to lift a few other boats.
Martha Stewart Living, the monthly lifestyle magazine published by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, suffered the biggest losses. Ad pages fell off 47 percent and ad revenues dropped 55 percent, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.
To Martha Stewart watchers, those declines may not be surprising. Advertisers have fled the retail and media company in the wake of its founder's legal woes. Stewart is in prison while appealing her conviction last March on charges she obstructed an insider trading probe into her late 2001 personal stock sales.
Other lagging magazines in 2004 included YM, Renovation Style, Fit Pregnancy, and Time Warner's Sports Illustrated for Kids. Ad pages at these publications were down 25 percent or more.
Look ahead: Botox advice
Despite last year's gains, magazine publishing has never a predictably business. Walker estimates that 75 percent of new launches fail within three years.
But that low survival rate does not dissuade media companies. Even as they struggled to boost advertising, publishers rolled out more new launches in 2003 than they did in 1998, when the economy was stronger.
With 776 debuts through the end of October, the industry was on track this year to beat 2003 levels, according to University of Mississippi journalism professor Samir Husni.
Among the new launches creating buzz: All In, a national bi-monthly magazine for poker buffs. This month Sandow Media will launch New Beauty, a magazine for plastic surgery aficionados.
Brad Adgate, the senior vice president of corporate research at Horizon Media, a New York branding firm, says publishers are following the zeitgeist. "Cosmetic surgery and poker are popular right now," he said.
Myers says magazines, far from a sleepy medium, are out in the forefront by coming out with niche products that have a unique point of view and draws a loyal demographic. "That's the direction where all advertising is going," said Myers.