Food Magazines Savor Success

Food publications are among the few magazine genres that are holding their own or even growing in readership, ad pages and revenue--despite competition from the Internet. Their continued success may be due, in part, to their purpose: equal parts vicarious and inspirational. Readers who want to enjoy gourmet meals or get tips on presentation might find more value in the professional photography and high production values of a glossy mag, rather than a utilitarian Web site for searching recipes.

Established titles like Bon Appetit and Gourmet are experiencing modest growth in subscriptions and newsstand sales, although ad pages and revenue are flat or down slightly. In the first half of 2006, Gourmet saw newsstand sales rise 9.1% to 85,279, while subscriptions edged up 1.1% to 909,673, according to the most recent FAS-FAX report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). On the advertising side, January-September 2006 ad pages rose 11.5% to 874 and revenue jumped 17.8% to more than $83 million, according to the latest figures from the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB).



Similarly, Bon Appetit saw newsstand sales rise 4.2% to 136,170 as subscriptions rose 1.5% to 1,212,090. The magazine was down somewhat in ad pages for January-September 2006, compared to the same period last year--dropping 6% to 631, with ad revenue basically flat after a 0.5% drop. Given the mag's strong circulation numbers and the genre's overall health, the PIB figures may simply be due to short-term fluctuations.

Smaller competitors and niche titles have also posted strong results or at least are breaking even, on a year-over-year basis. For example, Food & Wine, a slightly smaller competitor, has seen newsstand sales rise 2.1% and subscriptions 2%. For the first nine months of 2006, ad pages are up 8.4% and revenue has climbed 14.1%. Things are a little less sunny at Saveur, where newsstand sales are down 11.9% and ad pages are down slightly with a 4% drop. But overall circulation rose due to 1.9% growth in subscriptions, and revenue is up 2.8%.

A relative newcomer among the big food titles--Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's Everyday Food--is enjoying a boom in ad pages and revenue, which have risen 40.7% and 53.7%, respectively. Advertiser interest is doubtless driven by a 3.3% rise in newsstand sales and a 20.2% jump in subscriptions.

Finally, a raft of smaller publications with ABC data but no PIB figures also seem to be breaking even or growing according to year-over-year circulation measures: Easy Home Cooking's subscription base rose 18.5% to 301,695, Cooking Light is basically flat with a 0.2% drop. Eating Well saw subscriptions jump 56.2%; Fine Cooking is up slightly at the newsstand and in subs, for a total circ rise of 1.1%. Vegetarian Times subscriptions grew 13.8% to 202,613.

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