LOOKING UP: As publishers file their circulation numbers for the second half of 2003 with the Audit Bureau of Circulations, there’s a bit of relief in store after a dreadful first half on the newsstand.

At Hearst, the two biggest success stories continued to be O: The Oprah Magazine and Esquire. O advanced 38 percent on newsstand to 995,000. The magazine is now second only to Cosmopolitan as the company’s biggest newsstand play. Esquire, meanwhile, increased about 20,000 copies to finish with a total of 116,000 copies on newsstand. It’s the fifth consecutive gain under editor David Granger, thanks in part to the magazine’s September Britney Spears cover, which sold 186,000 copies, the magazine’s best seller in nine years. (Britney, of course, was reportedly upset with the racy photo of her in a reshoot of the magazine’s famous 1966 Angie Dickinson cover. Perhaps Britney should have been more worried about her extracurricular activities.)

This story first appeared in the February 6, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

At Condé Nast, meanwhile, Lucky surged 11.4 percent on newsstand, bringing the monthly average to 250,000 copies. Vanity Fair moved forward 8.3 percent at newsstand to sell 430,000 copies. The New Yorker held steady at about 47,000 copies, but overall circulation inched forward 5 percent to 987,000, thanks to an increase in subscriptions. (Unlike other categories, weekly news and general interest titles tend to sell less than 5 percent of their copies on newsstand, so subscriptions are a more reliable way to gauge their success.) Vogue was up a modest 1 percent to 497,000 copies on newsstand, though that followed a record-breaking 2002, when the magazine posted an increase of 13 percent on newsstand. (Condé Nast Publications is a unit of Advance Publications, which also owns WWD).

Another big success was Time Inc’s Real Simple, which, as reported, inched forward 10 percent to about 370,000 copies. — Jacob Bernstein

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM, CLONE THEM: The Star isn’t American Media’s only magazine suffering an identity crisis. Far from Bonnie Fuller-land, the all-new, all-different Men’s Fitness is posting the same old results.

After replacing the editor last summer and moving the magazine to New York, AMI chief executive officer David Pecker paid for a total redesign, care of peripatetic design consultant Roger Black, that bowed in November. Hyper-trophied hulks disappeared from the covers, while B-list athletes and C-list celebrities took their place.

The results were as mixed as the benefits of some of the supplements hawked in the back — ad pages finished down 9.7 percent for the year, and newsstand sales were a mixed bag (way up in the second half, sources said, but the number of copies distributed vastly increased as well).

So AMI has a new plan: it’s going to knock off Men’s Health.

Editor Peter Sikowitz and new art director Neil Boulton (a former Black associate) have been given a mandate by the powers that be to make the magazine’s inside pages mimic its Rodale rival’s, sources close to the magazine said. And why not? Men’s Health’s newsstand sales (440,000 in the first half of last year) are still around triple Men’s Fitness’ new newsstand average.

Sikowitz responded that his magazine’s look and feel is still evolving but doesn’t include wholesale lifting. Still, Men’s Health is on his mind. “What we wanted to do right from the start is go head-to-head with Men’s Heath,” he said.

But they should check with the lawyers first. Rodale sued what was then Weider Publications for trademark infringement in 1999 after Men’s Fitness ran a succession of covers featuring black-and-white photographs of rippled young men, i.e., Men’s Health’s covers. The two sides eventually settled, with Weider agreeing not to do it again.

Sikowitz has also had some senior posts to fill — his executive editor, Tony Romando, left to start Ziff Davis’ Sync, and his managing editor, the California transplant Dean Brierly, quit to go back. The latter has already been replaced and the former is about to be, Sikowitz said. — Greg Lindsay

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