Condemned: Time Inc. Shutters 'Cottage Living'

The shelter magazine category is starting to look more like the rubble category, with Time Inc.'s announcement late Tuesday that it is closing Cottage Living after the November-December issue, currently on newsstands. The magazine's Web site is also shutting down. The magazine's demise, following close on the heels of several other big magazines, suggests that the shakeout in the magazine industry is only beginning.

The latest news is bad, but not surprising. The shelter category was one of the first to feel the effects of the current economic downturn, which began with the collapse of the U.S. housing market. Cottage Living joins a host of other well-known shelter titles that closed their doors in the last couple of years, including House & Garden, closed by Conde Nast in November 2007; Blueprint, closed by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in January of this year; Home, closed by Hachette Filipacchi in October; and O at Home, which is closing after its Winter issue.



Cottage Living had particularly bad luck with its timing: the niche shelter title launched in September 2004--a little more than a year before the housing market bubble burst, in the fourth quarter of 2005. With little chance to grow before adverse conditions set in, its ad pages losses were not as bad as some peers, in percentage terms: total ad pages declined 1.8% in 2007 compared to 2006, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, and were down 5.1% through November of this year, according to MIN Online. Nonetheless, the magazine raised its circulation several times--jumping from 500,000 when it launched to 1 million in January 2007, a little over two years later.

At least in percentage terms, Cottage Living's ad page losses looked a lot better than some other titles, including its peers at Time Inc.'s Southern Progress Corporation--which has recently been hit by waves of cuts, along with the rest of Time Inc. Ad pages at flagship Southern Living are down 15.5% through November, according to MIN Online, to 1,111; Coastal Living is down 22% to 653; and Sunset is down 25% to 694. The division's two non-shelter titles are also struggling, with ad pages at Health down 12.6% to 911, and ad pages at Cooking Light down 20.7% to 1,445 (on Tuesday it was also announced that Chris Allen, the longtime publisher of Cooking Light, was stepping down). Ad pages at Time Inc.'s This Old House, a separate business, are down 17.2% to 521. The one bright spot for Southern Progress is Southern Accents, where ad pages were up 9.9% to 459 as of September, according to PIB.

The woes of Southern Progress and corporate parent Time Inc. are representative of the magazine industry in general. A variety of magazine categories have tanked in the last year, putting the squeeze on big publishers; at every company. The first hints of trouble came in the shelter category before spreading to other titles, reflecting the development of the economic crisis.

Among Time Inc.'s competitors, ad pages at Hearst's Country Living are down 9.6% to 917; at Meredith, Country Home is down 22.2% to 587 and Traditional Home is down 20.3% to 616; and ad pages at Dwell, independently published, are down 10.6% to 1,075. In the related general domestic category, ad pages at Meredith's Better Homes & Gardens are down 16.7% to 1,564, while Ladies' Home Journal is down 19.5% to 1,136. Good news is scarce: Hearst's House Beautiful is up 8.5% to 721 pages, while Hachette's Elle Décor and Metropolitan Home are both basically flat with small declines of 1.85% and 3.5%, respectively. Architectural Digest is also basically flat, with a small decline of 2%.

As indicated, the downturn is now being felt by all magazine categories, not just shelter. 2008 has seen the demise of magazines in a variety of categories, including Golf for Women, Quick & Simple, CosmoGirl, and Play, the New York Times sports magazine. In the first nine months of the year, total ad pages were down 9.1% at Conde Nast, 9.3% at Time Inc., 5% at Hearst, 7.2% at Bonnier, 8.5% at Hachette, and 17% at Meredith.

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