NEW YORK — If anybody had any trouble understanding why S.I. Newhouse made the most dramatic changes in the history of Conde Nast earlier this year, one only has to look at the first-quarter results of his magazines.
Vanity Fair’s ad pages declined 25.8 percent, Mademoiselle dropped 22.1 percent, Architectural Digest was off 19.8 percent, Glamour was down 13.4 percent, GQ was off 7.2 percent and Vogue slipped 4.2 percent, according to Media Industry Newsletter.
The Vanity Fair numbers were especially poor, given that the magazine was coming off a 20 percent decline in ad pages in 1993.
But all was not gloom and doom at Conde Nast. Allure jumped 19.8 percent, Self moved ahead 12.3 percent and Details rose 1.6 percent.
First-quarter results at some other fashion magazines were also markedly better. Harper’s Bazaar, a Hearst publication, reported a 10.3 percent increase in ad pages, while Elle, published by Hachette, moved ahead 11.7 percent. W, a Fairchild publication, showed a 6 percent gain.
Murdoch Magazines’ Mirabella, however, was off 10.4 percent in ad pages for the quarter and Hearst’s Town & Country, despite a new editor, a new look and a large marketing campaign, only managed to inch up 1.4 percent.
Publishers described the first quarter as “difficult” because advertisers held back budgets and ran fewer pages. The publishers said they were expecting to recoup some of their lost ground in the second quarter.
“Fashion was the hardest hit,” said Jack Kliger, publisher of Glamour. “It was a tough first quarter. Everybody was holding off on their budgets. The second quarter looks like it will be up.” As for the year, he said, “It’s a tough call. I think we’ll be about even.”
Kliger said Glamour’s circulation has been growing. Glamour posted a 10.6 percent increase in circulation in the second half of 1993, with an average total paid circulation for the period of 2.3 million.
Mademoiselle blames its poor performance on the turmoil that occurred at the magazine in 1993. “I had an editor-in-chief change again and a new art director,” said Julie Lewit-Nirenberg, publisher. “From September to February, I did not have a magazine to sell.”
Ad pages in the March issue, which marked the debut of editor-in-chief Elizabeth Crow, declined 26 percent.
“The March issue closed in December, and I had nothing to show people,” said Nirenberg. She added that she expects the magazine to be down 15 percent for the first half, “but then I expect to do very well for the second half.”
Discussing Vogue’s first quarter decline, publisher Anne Sutherland Fuchs said, “The business seems to kick in a little bit slower each year. It’s a little delayed until people start their plans; then it heats up.”
But there doesn’t appear to be any immediate relief.
Vogue’s April “value” issue, a big moneymaker last year, will be down 16 percent, and will carry 276 pages, versus 330 a year ago when the issue which features less expensive fashion was launched. Fuchs noted that April’s comparison figures continue to be skewed by Vogue’s 380-page anniversary issue launched the same month in 1992.
“We’re going to be fairly flat in May and June,” she added.
Michael Clinton, publisher of GQ, said his magazine was up against “some really big numbers” in 1993.
“There’s a little softness in apparel and retail, and that’s primarily because the fashion market is not running multiple-page sections,” said Clinton. He said the magazine “is doing business with the same amount of people,” adding: “They’re not running eight pages; they’re running two pages.”
Thomas P. Losee Jr., publisher of Architectural Digest, said his decrease was due to special circumstances. “Our pages were off, but our revenue is up. We assumed a lot of HG’s circulation and rates went up 20 percent.” He said that under the previous ownership — Knapp Communications — the magazine would give “different discounts and seasonal discounts,” but now that it’s part of Conde Nast, the discounts aren’t allowed.
At Mirabella, where ad sales have been stagnating for some time, the publication abruptly changed publishers last month, replacing Rebecca Darwin with Catherine Viscardi.
“It’s inappropriate for me to make a statement about the first quarter,” said Viscardi, who started at Mirabella this week. She said April ad sales “were not as big as they hoped it would be, but May has potential.”
Another magazine to make dramatic changes in the last six months was Esquire, which named Edward Kosner editor-in-chief in September and Ronald Galotti publishing director last month.
“People think it’s very easy, but it’s very difficult. The pie is shrinking,” said Galotti. Esquire’s ad pages declined 34.4 percent in the first quarter, including a 36.5 percent drop in March.
While Details has out-maneuvered Esquire for the number-two spot behind GQ in ad pages at the men’s magazines, Galotti sees a civil war at Conde Nast that could benefit his publication: “[There is] a war being waged between Details and GQ for the Generation X dollars,” said Galotti, while his publication has a median age is 35 and is aiming at a different niche.
Galotti said the April issue is “up a little bit,” and the May issue hasn’t closed yet. “We’ll see a nice second half. Esquire will start to turn.”
Stephanie George, publisher of W, attributed the 6 percent increase to “a significant gain in retail pages and the overall positive reaction to the new W.” She noted that the increase was particularly important given that W changed frequency in August from 26 to 12 issues a year. She projected second-quarter business at 7 or 8 percent ahead of a year ago, and said it will continue that way throughout the rest of 1994. She also noted that W’s new format had led to an increase in circulation of more than 20 percent.
At Elle, publisher Diane Silberstein said she expects to be up 14 percent in the first half. She attributes the first quarter gain to “new fashion retail advertisers and some terrific automotive business.”
Meanwhile, things seem to be slowing down at Harper’s Bazaar. Last year, the magazine was on a roll — up 58 percent — amid rumors of rate busting. Though the magazine is up 10.2 percent for the first quarter, publisher Carl Portale said ad pages would be down around 20 percent in April, from 175 pages to 140. But May and June, he added, would be ahead and he expects to be up 5 percent for the first half.