Coming from a publisher that enjoyed relative stability during earlier phases of the recession, the sharp drop bodes ill for the magazine business in general.
Print ad revenues dropped 18.4%, due to a 25.6% decline in ad pages. These decreases are roughly in line with the magazine industry as a whole, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Online ad revenues decreased 2.6% -- a significant reversal for Rodale, which, like the rest of the industry, has touted online as an area of long-term revenue growth.
In the first quarter of 2009, ad pages at flagship Men's Health fell 24.4%, while Women's Health slipped 21.7%, and Runner's World tumbled 34.5%. In early March, Rodale closed Best Life, a promising new men's lifestyle magazine, explaining the title hadn't met its ambitious targets for advertising sales.
However, there were some bright spots for Rodale in the first three months of 2009, including strong e-commerce, record-setting numbers of page views at Men's Health and unique visitors at Women's Health, and book sales for titles like "Flat Belly Diet!" and "East This, Not That!" But these upswings couldn't offset the steep drop in ad revenue in its core magazine business.
While other magazine publishers headed south years ago, Rodale was one of the last holdouts in the face of recessionary trends, at least in terms of ad pages. Its total ad pages for the first six months of 2008 were flat, compared to the same period in 2007, while Time Inc. was down 7.8%, Conde Nast 6.3% and Meredith 14.4%, according to the Group Publisher's Report from TNS Media Intelligence.
By September Rodale was down just 3%, while Conde Nast and Time Inc. were both down over 9%. Rodale ended the year down a modest 5.2%, while its peers posted double-digit losses.