Women's Mags Downplay MRI Data
Publishers of the six venerable titles - Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook and Woman's Day - expressed little concern about the declining readership numbers. "Overall, around 60 percent of all magazines they measured were down - it's not just the women's service category," says Woman's Day publisher and vice president Laura Klein. Adds Better Homes and Gardens publisher Dan Lagani: "To be honest, I'm not sure the [MRI] numbers tell me a whole lot."
Still, the numbers don't paint a pretty picture. While circulation at the six titles collectively increased by a negligible 48,000, overall readership dropped to 124.2 million from 133.7 million in spring 2002 - a 7.67 percent tumble. The decline was slightly more pronounced among the Sisters' core woman audience (a drop of just below eight percent).
On a readers-per-copy basis, all six titles individually declined both among total adults and women. Family Circle lost the fewest adult readers (only .04 per copy), while Redbook lost the most (.68 per copy). Collectively, adult readership per copy for the six titles declined to 4.51 in spring 2003 from 4.86 at the same time last year; woman readership per copy slumped to 3.93 from 4.25.
Of course, any number of factors could have affected the data. For instance, Klein questioned whether a sweeping series of changes at Woman's Day - in March, the magazine upgraded its paper stock, increased its width and overhauled its design - were reflected in the MRI data. "The numbers may not be reflective of the changes, for us and probably for many others," she suggests.
Similarly, others wonder whether the "Six Sisters" tag has outlived its usefulness. Any number of titles tread roughly the same ground in terms of subject matter. Were O: The Oprah Magazine or even Real Simple to be formally inducted into the sorority, the category's overall MRI numbers might look considerably rosier.
And while it's obvious that the Six Sisters compete for dollars from the same advertisers, other publications are going after those same dollars - meaning that the Sisters might want to broaden their view of potential competitors, if they haven't already. "I consider People just as much of a competitor, if not more, as the other women's-service magazines," Lagani says.
As for the rest of 2003 and beyond, Six Sisters publishers are bullish about the category - both collectively and in terms of individual titles - as well as the overall economy. "Business has never been better," says Lagani of BH&G; Klein points to 80 brand-new advertisers in the June issue of Women's Day. If nothing else, the Sisters can take solace in the Publishers Information Bureau's year-to-date figures through April, in which each of the titles is up considerably in both ad pages and ad revenue over 2002 levels.
"The category is faring very, very well, both with readers and advertisers," Klein notes. "People want to live easier and more fulfilling lives, and that's what the women's-service magazines are all about."