“Butt ugly” – that’s the colourful description one magazine executive gave to Ad Age to describe the monthly magazine industry’s first quarter.

Since they have early ad booking deadlines, monthly titles can offer a snapshot of what other media sellers can expect along the line. On such a basis, the outlook for first-quarter ad pages looks far from rosy, dashing earlier hopes that initial figures would show flat year-on-year growth.

“A lot of publishers would view coming in at minus 10% to minus 15% vs. the year prior as a real accomplishment,” declared David Carey, vp and publisher of Condé Nast’s The New Yorker, which is heading for just such a drop. Its stablemate Vogue, however, saw ad pages 40% down in January.

There have been huge cutbacks in adspend from the travel, luxury and top-end retail sectors, with double-digit ad page declines expected at the bulk of magazines highly exposed to these categories.

Time’s Fortune and Condé Nast’s Bride’s, the leading titles for ad pages last year, are both staring at significant falls – 15%–20% for Fortune’s first-quarter and up to 20% for the first two issues of Bride’s this year

At Hearst Magazines, executive vp/chief marketing officer Michael Clinton expects double-digit drops for upmarket titles such as Harper's Bazaar, Esquire, Town & Country and SmartMoney, while Good Housekeeping, Popular Mechanics and Country Living are up slightly. O The Oprah Magazine, a joint venture with Harpo Productions, is “holding” to last year’s total.

As Rob Gregory, publisher of Wenner Media’s Rolling Stone put it: “We all live in a world of reduced expectations.”

News source: AdAge.com