Four of the Des Moines, Iowa-based publisher's titles--Country Home, Traditional Home, Midwest Living, and More--raised their rate bases beginning with the January 2004 issues. And this is only part of a larger story for the mid-size titles, which have seen year-over-year growth in ad pages and revenue as well.
The move is important because it's happening at a time when other mass-circulation titles have slashed their rate bases, although many times for strength and not weakness. Reader's Digest will cut one million this year; The Atlantic Monthly sliced its rate base from 450,000 to 325,000 beginning with last month's issue.
Country Home raised its rate base to 1.25 million from 1.2 million--its third annual increase. Midwest Living was upped to 900,000 from 850,000. More went from 850,000 to 950,000. And Traditional Home's rate base increased from 925,000 to 950,000--its fourteenth increase in rate base in 14 years.
Joe Lagani, vice president and publishing director of Country Home and Traditional Home, acknowledged that both magazines are in a category that consumers want to read, and a product category where they continue spending money. But the titles' success speaks to Meredith's consumer strategy.
"We want to create magazines that the consumer wants to buy, first and foremost. Then we'll figure out ways to sell advertising," Lagani said.
Not that any have had problems selling advertising. All four titles posted year-over-year increases in ad pages and revenues, according to Publishers Information Bureau data. Country Home had 962 ad pages in 2003 compared to 864 a year earlier, with revenues up 28 percent from $98.2 million in 2002 to $126.4 million in 2003. Traditional Home's ad pages jumped to 918 in 2003 from 773 a year ago; ad revenues soared 32 percent to $84.4 million in 2003 compared to $63.5 million in 2002. Midwest Living's ad pages climbed from 729 pages to 914 pages in 2003, with ad revenues rising from $44 million to $59.6 million in 2003. More, a title aimed at women over 40, saw ad pages soar from 562 pages in 2002 to 749 pages in 2003. Ad revenues rocketed from $30.9 million in 2002 to $51.9 million in 2003.
Data for January 2004 wasn't available.
"Expanding the rate base and frequency of our mid-size titles has allowed us to increase advertising rates and attract nonendemic advertising," said Publishing Division Chief Steve Lacy in a conference call with analysts last month.
Unlike a lot of other magazines, Meredith isn't dependent on newsstand sales. Only about 15 percent of the rate bases of Country Home and Traditional Home come from the newsstand.
Lagani credited an editorially based direct-mail campaign for the increase in subscriptions. Having a strong editorial product gets and keeps readers, he said.
"There is certainly a continuing consumer demand [for the titles]," Lagani said. "We have been able to keep our products current and vital, and been able to grow our existing products. I think we've done that by continuously upgrading and evolving the editorial product. That is a critical aspect of what we're doing."
Valerie Muller, a magazine consultant and former agency print media buyer, said that the four titles are in niches that represent strong pockets of the population. They're different than Meredith's reach titles, Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal.
"Rate changes mean that buyers need to have a greater understanding of the publication's overall strategy," Muller said. "It forces conversations between buyers and sellers to understand what the publisher is trying to accomplish in the marketplace with readership, which is essentially what the buyer is purchasing. This is a good thing."
Lagani said things looked positive for the titles in the future.
"We see continuing conservative growth ahead of us," Lagani said. "We won't push it faster than the consumer demand will support."