NEW YORK — Leave it to Oprah Winfrey to reinvent home decorating as a matter of personal growth.
To hear Amy Gross, editor in chief of O, The Oprah Magazine tell it, American women live in fear of their own houses. The very idea of rearranging furniture or repainting walls is enough to cause anxiety attacks, she suggests. “I’m a regular person and I’m scared to death of decorating,” said Gross. “I know how to return a pair of shoes. I don’t know how to return wall-to-wall carpeting.”
Enter O at Home, a new brand extension that hits newsstands Tuesday. The goal of O at Home is “to make decorating less intimidating,” said executive editor Suzanne Slesin. That means articles like “Where’d You Find That?” will deconstruct a real person’s apartment, item by item, to show that stylish rooms are built over time. The lesson: “Decorating’s not an all-or-nothing activity,” said Slesin.
In conceiving the new magazine, Gross and Slesin set out to incorporate certain brand values from the flagship title. Those values, said Gross, include “warmth, intimacy, comfort, a sense of abundance, saturated color, a certain lushness.” The issue’s centerpiece is a spread whose six trifurcated pages allow readers to view the same room with 54 different decor combinations.
O at Home, which is published by Hearst, arrives as a number of major publishers are developing new shelter magazines. Time Inc.’s Southern Progress Corp. will introduce Cottage Living later this year, and American Media will launch a title called Happy Home in the fall. Next year, Condé Nast (like WWD, part of Advance Publications Inc.) will launch an as-yet-unnamed home furnishings title modeled on the shopping magazine Lucky. Of the boom in shelter magazines, Gross said, “There’s this sense that decorating is entertainment.”
The new titles will fight for the market share freed up by Martha Stewart Living, which has suffered ad page and circulation declines since Stewart’s conviction in the ImClone stock scandal. Ad pages in the magazine, which cut its rate base from 2.3 million to 1.8 million in January, are down 55.9 percent through May, according to Media Industry Newsletter.
As a result, first-quarter revenues for the publishing unit of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia fell 30 percent to $23.9 million, according to the company’s earnings report which was posted Friday. Overall, the company’s net loss skyrocketed from $4.5 million a year ago to $20.3 million.
Beginning with the September issue of Martha Stewart Living, the company said it would downplay Stewart’s name and focus on the name Living as the brand label.
The first issue of O at Home, carrying 53 ad pages, will be available on newsstands only, with a distribution of 150,000 and a rate base of 600,000. The rate for a full-page ad is $39,000. Another issue is scheduled to be published in the fall.
— Jeff Bercovici