First-quarter PIB numbers are out from the MPA and ad pages have continued their decline, dropping about 5 percent when compared to the same period last year.
The MPA points out that revenue eked out a half-point gain in the quarter, the first in two years, but given the vagaries of rate card reporting versus what an ad is actually sold for, revenue figures are difficult to estimate at face value.
Yet reporting on PIB numbers has become challenging not simply because print ad pages have been pinched, but because they now only tell part of a larger story. Nevertheless, print is still one of the three main legs of the magazine publisher’s business model.
MPA CEO Mary Berner says PIB reporting is in a period of transition as the association investigates ways to incorporate digital numbers. "We’re very focused on trying to expand PIB measurement to include all of the digital advertising as well. We should have that in the next several months," she says.
Berner also points out that categories that did not perform so well in the first quarter, such as drugs/remedies and retail, were in the midst of a cyclical decline. But automotive, which has traditionally been a strong category, has turned into a "magazine problem," says Berner. "They’ve shifted to deal promotions and shorter term campaigns to move product," she says, indicating that the print platform isn’t suitable for this kind of marketing.
The food and technology categories, which had suffered extended declines, were also up, as were toiletries and cosmetics.
Looking at Q1 numbers since 2007, total ad page counts across all of the titles tracked have declined 38 percent.
Business and finance titles, except Kiplinger’s (up 19 percent), took a hit on pages for the quarter. Bloomberg Businessweek was down 33 percent, Forbes dropped 20 percent, Fortune remained flat and Harvard Business Review dipped 17 percent.
Newsweeklies did not fare well either—Time was down 13 percent in pages, The Week dropped 21 percent and the Economist was down 27 percent.
In aggregate, however, some of the major publishers showed increases for the quarter. Condé Nast is reporting a first quarter increase of 3 percent across titles. Titles such as Bon Appétit (+38 percent) and Details (+25 percent) helped shore up some that dipped—Architectural Digest dropped 16 percent, Self slipped 10 percent and The New Yorker was down 11 percent.
Meanwhile, Condé Nast says digital grew 35 percent in the quarter while integrated campaign programs jumped 50 percent in the quarter compared to the same period last year.
Hearst also cited integrated programs as a growth source, with overall pages up about 7 percent. Fashion and shelter categories performed well in the quarter, again helping to push overall ad page growth into the positive while other titles, like Country Living (-18 percent) and Redbook (-11 percent) stumbled.
At Time Inc., the company notes that 10 of its titles were up in pages, with increases across 11 of 15 ad categories.