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Mags: Who’s Vulnerable Now?

<CS:BOLD>NEW YORK -- The now-defunct Talk magazine is fueling talk in more ways than one. The question now is: What other titles are going to face a big squeeze this year?<BR><BR>Media executives point to the fact that publishers are struggling with...

NEW YORK — The now-defunct Talk magazine is fueling talk in more ways than one. The question now is: What other titles are going to face a big squeeze this year?

Media executives point to the fact that publishers are struggling with one of the worst economic climates in years. Magazines that are underfinanced, going it alone without group support, don’t have an endemic ad base or haven’t found their voice are going to have problems — and big ones.

Of course, Talk is simply the latest — and most costly — of a string of collapses, which include such established titles as Mademoiselle, as well as Home Style, Expedia Travel, Mode and Manhattan File. WWD asked advertising executives what other titles they believe are vulnerable — will it be fringe or independent ones, another home magazine, a fashion title, a city magazine, or a fallout from the overpopulated teen market? Among some of the properties considered to be in a state of flux:

Primedia Inc.’s New York and Seventeen, which are said to be in play even though debt-ridden Primedia vehemently denies it. New York magazine has decided to cut back its frequency to 46 issues from 50 a year as a cost-saving measure. Rumors are circulating that people have interviewed for Caroline Miller’s editor in chief post. Earlier this month, Conde Nast Publications beat out Martha Stewart Omnimedia and acquired Modern Bride from Primedia. The deal gave Conde Nast a lock on the bridal market, but it hasn’t elucidated its plans for the title yet.

Last fall, the U.S. edition of Jalouse went on hiatus after six issues. Jean Claude d’Huon, general manager of the U.S. edition of Jalouse, said Wednesday it’s expected to come back, “but not in the next few months.”

Style 24/7, an American Media Inc.-Fashion Wire Daily joint venture, fell off the map after four amateurish test issues. Despite a flaming New York Post article announcing the title had vanished, Steve Aaron, publisher of Style 24/7, said the publication will return sometime in the second quarter. The title is backed by Ron Perelman, chairman of Revlon, which has its own headaches to deal with.

The teen category: Following the successful launches of Teen People and Cosmogirl and the powerful YM and Seventeen, Elle Girl and Teen Vogue will face a tougher time justifying their sporadic frequency.

Executives said that numbers three and four or even five in a category will be hurt. “Harper’s Bazaar will have a hard time,” Sam Shahid, partner in Shahid & Co., an ad agency, said. “They’re in a difficult climate. How many magazines do you need? And, is it different enough? Vogue is original, W is original and In Style is original. Everyone else is following them. [The February issue] of Harper’s Bazaar wasn’t different enough. It’s trying to be the old Bazaar and a little bit of Marie Claire, Vogue and In Style.”

Furthermore, he said: “We have clients like Naturalizer and WonderBra, and we’re dropping Glamour because it’s too expensive, but Marie Claire is more affordable. You can buy two for the price of one.” He believes that Lucky will do well, and he’s running ads for Naturalizer in there, as well as in In Style, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire and Elle. “WonderBra says it likes Lucky because it shows product,” he said.

“Nylon will get hurt. They’re cheap, but it’s a fringe magazine.”

In the teen category, Shahid believes some magazines will fall through the cracks. “You don’t have the luxury of going to five magazines. I think Teen People is strong.” Abercrombie & Fitch, one of his clients and a keen teen retailer, will advertise in Vogue and in Maxim for the first time this spring. “Maxim is successful, and you go there automatically. People are going for volume now. And guys love it. Esquire would be questionable if you don’t have the money,” he said.

Peter Gardiner, executive vice president, director of media services at Deutsch Inc., the ad agency, said media plans are being affected “across the board.” However, he said, health magazines seem to be doing OK. “I think Health, Self, Fitness and Shape seem to be doing pretty well. The core beauty-fashion magazines are suffering a bit,” he added.

Gardiner said there’s a lot of negotiating going on over rates. “It’s like the Old West, right now. Everyone’s wheeling and dealing and just trying to get deals done. People are not seeing the end of this thing, yet. Everyone’s been as aggressive as they can, putting packages together and marketing programs.”

Harlan Schwarz, director of strategic print services at Universal McCann, said magazines focused on the economy are hurting. “Coming off 2001, news weeklies, business books and technology and anything economy-related will see continued erosion. On the flip side, in a recession and post-Sept. 11 world, we’re seeing publications that are more internally-focused, those that deal with health and well-being, lifestyle, beauty-grooming are actually doing well.

“Advertisers are perhaps retrenching and being somewhat more scrupulous and focusing on their core audience,” he said, adding that in his view, it’s a short-term thing. Schwarz hopes the industry’s tightened belts will ease in the second quarter and in the second half.

“Some of the experimenting will go away for awhile,” he predicted. But he pointed out that sometimes, the fringe books are the core of certain companies’ strategies. “It’s influencing the influencers, ‘The Tipping Point’ people. Those books may hold up more than the bigger, more established fashion magazines.”

Nor does Schwarz believe a big parent company necessarily will insure that a magazine survives. “A parent company has nothing to do with it. If that were the case, Mademoiselle would still be in business,” he said.

Donald P. Ziccardi, chief executive officer of ad agency Ziccardi Partners Frierson Mee Inc., said that in the fashion category, In Style has its celebrity franchise and Vogue has a strong franchise, but “someone like an Elle is becoming secondary. There’s no real buzz, and it doesn’t have a unique franchise. We’re looking at it as second tier, not first tier.”

In addition, he said that ever since Glamour took over Mademoiselle’s rate base: “Glamour has lost its credibility. I think there is an issue of who is this new audience and how do you bring the subscriber lists together and develop the editorial to speak to both of them together.”

In the men’s market, “GQ is something we’re looking at less seriously because we have alternatives like Esquire and Maxim.

Ziccardi said one area of vulnerability is the weeklies. “We just don’t feel with budget cuts that they have the longevity.” He said Newsweek, New York and The New Yorker are off the plan. “The reader isn’t as interested in the whole intellectualism in light of Sept. 11. They need to be romanced and entertained. We’re totally out of Fast Company, Wired and Smart Business. All those tech books are struggling,” he said.

In contrast, Ziccardi said the homey Real Simple — once on industry lists as a potential casualty — is now “holding its own. It’s contemporary, it talks about simplifying and editing our lives and comes out of spiritualism. It speaks to that editorial point of view.”

Walter Coyle, senior vice president, media director at ad agency Pedone & Partners, said that the recent demise of the redesigned Home Style is “a real indication that publishing companies are looking for concepts to take off immediately.” He said, ironically, in most recessions, the home category tends to do really well, but the vulnerability lies with publishing companies with single products or limited package assortments. Among those that fall into that category are Saveur, Garden Design, Spin, Surface, Nest and Interview.

“Business publishers continue to be daunted. Tech publications are on life support, such as Internet Life and Wired.” He also said in-flight magazines will be in trouble such as United’s Hemispheres and American Airlines’ American Way and Celebrated Living.

“City publications, that have a heavy reliance on retail will have a tough time,” added Coyle, citing publications such as Gotham, City New York, Manhattan Style and SoHo Style. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a particular shake-out in the teen category. With Teen Vogue, Teen People and Elle Girl, if they don’t spend the money to build audiences, and if YM and Teen don’t defend their turf they’ll be more vulnerable to branded spinoffs who may be spending money.

“Newsweeklies continue to struggle. [However] some have been having really good years from a circulation perspective,” said Coyle. If there’s any shakeout, U.S. News & World Report is the most vulnerable, he added.

Charles DeCaro, partner in Laspata/DeCaro, an ad agency here, said that in his view, the next fallout will occur in the avant-garde area, where titles like Wallpaper and Surface are vulnerable. But Cyndi April, senior vice president, group media director at BBDO, said that some of these titles might survive simply because they are privately financed and pets of their owners. Whether they survive depends on if they have a dual revenue stream from both advertising and circulation. “If they have a dual stream and are getting revenues from circulation, they can weather a bad advertising environment. If you’ve done a significant amount of discounting to bulk up the circulation, you’re not getting revenues that way and you’re dealing with the ad slide, you’re doomed. If they’ve been playing games with their circulation and they’re not a must-have title, they’ll be hurting,” she said.

Trey Laird, executive vice president, corporate imaging and creative director at Donna Karan International, said: “I do think the fringe indie magazines” are most vulnerable. “It doesn’t mean they’re not important. It’s nice to have, but they’re not absolutely necessary. They’re cheaper but they don’t give you the same effect. To me, the major established magazines that are the leaders in their categories will still be strong because they’re worth it.”

Laird said he hasn’t cut any magazines off his media list. “We’re tightening up as much as possible, but we’re not adding anybody.” Donna Karan will continue to be in magazines such as Dutch, Big, V and Arena Hommes Plus, and this year, it’s adding Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal and Esquire.

“Our decision was to stick to our guns and stay the course. We’re not pulling away or spreading it around,” he said. DKNY juniors will advertise in Teen People, Cosmogirl, YM, Teen Vogue and Seventeen. Karan also is advertising in Glamour, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and W.

“Men’s is the one place I’ve found to be very difficult to find the appropriate vehicle. We’re in GQ and Details, and will try Rolling Stone and Esquire,” said Laird.

But most executives agree that with client’s reduced budgets, some magazines have fallen off the media plan. “All of the magazines are vulnerable,” said DeCaro. “I wouldn’t say that there’s a magazine being targeted for extinction. There’s an across-the-board tightening of the media belts. Clients are concentrating their ad dollars in core books and historically proven performers.”