Reality Check: Comparing Meredith Rate Card Figures With Revs
Official rate card advertising revenue figures from the Publishers Information Bureau -- released in quarterly reports from the PIB along with figures for ad pages -- have always had, shall we say, an inconsistent relationship with reality.
Publishers often give large discounts to advertisers behind closed doors. These discounts are never discussed, making it difficult to know just how much the PIB figures are inflated, especially as privately held companies like Hearst Corp. and Conde Nast never reveal their actual results.
However, some publicly traded magazine publishers do release their real ad revenue figures, giving a general idea of the disparity between PIB figures and actual revenues.
For example, one of the bigger publicly traded magazine publishers, Meredith Corp., publishes a portfolio of women’s interest titles including Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Family Circle, Parents, Fitness, Siempre Mujer and Traditional Home.
The PIB figures for these titles show total rate card revenues of $499 million. Rate card revenue figures for individual titles range from $173 million for flagship Better Homes and Gardens to $2.7 million for Ser Padres. Several smaller Meredith titles, including Successful Farming, Scrapbooks Etc. and Quilting, are not tracked by PIB.
Half a billion dollars in advertising revenues doesn’t sound too bad. But it’s even more remarkable when you consider that Meredith’s total revenues -- including its broadcast TV division and growing marketing services business -- came to $328 million in the third quarter of 2011, down 4.4% from $343 million in the third quarter of 2010.
More specifically, total magazine and online advertising revenues at Meredith’s national media group came to $124 million, or slightly less than one-quarter of the PIB ad revenue figure.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Meredith is giving advertisers a 75% discount across the board. For one thing, PIB ad figures don’t necessarily reflect volume discounts that are given to bigger advertisers, or frequency break discounts, which are generally included on rate cards but not accounted for by the PIB.
Still, historical figures for the industry at large confirm that PIB figures are considerably higher than actual ad revenues. One independent estimate, from eMarketer, places total magazine print advertising revenues in 2010 at $14.7 billion -- about 27% lower than the PIB total of $20.1 billion.