After a tentative recovery following the economic downturn in 2009, consumer magazines are seeing ad pages fall again, raising the possibility of a long-term, secular decline in the medium similar to their print cousins in the newspaper business.
Total ad pages fell 8% from 50,578 in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 46,508 in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, while print advertising revenues (based on official rate card figures) declined 4.9% from $6.02 billion to $5.73 billion.
For the full year, total ad pages fell 3.1% from 169,552 to 164,225, while rate card revenue was basically flat at $20.09 billion.
In terms of categories, for the full year, financial, insurance and real estate saw ad pages grow 12.7%, thanks to banks, investment firms, credit card companies, insurance providers and a select group of realtors, despite continuing softness in the real estate market.
Toiletries and cosmetics experienced 3.8% growth in ad pages for the full year, due to more advertising for makeup, perfumes and hair styling products. The apparel and accessories category saw ad pages increase 5.5%, powered by ads for jewelry, watches and footwear.
Despite the positive news in some categories, this marks two quarters in a row of year-over-year declines in ad pages for consumer magazines as a whole. After increasing 2.4% in the first quarter of 2011, magazine ad pages were basically flat with a 0.1% increase in the second quarter, but then suffered a reversal in the third quarter, when they fell 5.6%.
For comparison, overall U.S. ad spending increased 4.4%, 2.8%, and 0.4% in the first, second, and third quarters, according to Kantar Media.
The discouraging trend pours cold water on hopes for a long-term recovery in the magazine business, which saw ad pages fall sharply during the recession, from 253,494 in 2006 to 174,403 in 2010 -- a 31.8% drop in just four years.