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Some magazine titles thrive in downturn

Photo courtesy of Playingwithbrushes via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Playingwithbrushes via Flickr

The weight of fall fashion magazines has sometimes been taken for a barometer of the magazine industry’s health. If that’s true, the industry is looking scrawny. Vogue, whose September 2007 issue contained 727 ad pages and weighed nearly 5 pounds, has endured a 31 percent decrease in ad pages in the past year, according to Publishers Information Bureau data provided by Magazine Publishers of America. W magazine’s September issue has 47 percent fewer ad pages than last year, and so forth. But a few magazine categories are holding up pretty well.

Only 12 titles out of 234 surveyed in the Publishers Information Bureau data saw an increase in ad pages in the first half of this year compared to the first half of 2008. They included fitness and sports publications like Fitness magazine, Muscle & Fitness and Sports Illustrated for Kids, as well as food magazines like Saveur and Cooking with Paula Deen. Why are they managing to weather the storm better than others? Surely food and fitness mags face no less competition from the growing array of Internet media available than the fashion category does.

Advertising is a better predictor of how an industry is holding up than where audiences are going. The decline in fashion ads says more about people spending less on high-end clothes in a recession than it does about audiences moving to the Web. The magazine industry has held up pretty well judged on circulation alone; for example, Vogue’s still hovers around 1.3 million, roughly the same as two years ago. Peter Gardiner, chief media officer at the ad agency Deutsch Inc., recently told Forbes, “When the circulation or the readership declines, that’s when I’ll be concerned.”

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