US magazines are showing a grunge homemaker trend

Welcome to the first in a new series entitled Fun Things That Columnists Do: this week it's poring over statistics of ad volumes for the American magazine market in 2001, assisted by my trusty props -- a calculator, a wet towel round my head and a strong drink, writes Dominic Mills.

But to what point, you ask? Why depress ourselves any more? Well, advertiser dollars follow readers, albeit with a time lag. These readers in turn reflect broad social and media trends, many of which subsequently cross the Atlantic. So where American advertising budgets are going matters over here.

First, the broad picture. According to the numbers, the top 200 magazines posted an average 11.7% drop in ad volumes for the year. Boring or what. Averages are for the hopeless, such as the statistician who drowned in a pool that was an average 12 inches deep.

As for the bad news, there are no prizes for guessing the biggest losers were the business magazines that, riding the new-economy zeitgeist, briefly assumed the dimension of telephone directories: Red Herring, Fast Company, Wired, etc -- each down by 40-plus per cent. Add the general business magazines, anything to do with computers and technology and retail, and you have a fairly grim, if predictable, picture.

But let's concentrate on the bright spots because they, surely, give an idea of what may happen.

Perhaps the least surprising area is in that genre we loosely call homemaking. I say least surprising because, post-September 11, the home -- with all that it represents in terms of comfort, security and familiarity -- has become more central to Americans' lives. But, in fact, these figures cover the whole year, not just the last three months of 2001, which suggests this is no knee-jerk advertiser reaction. Old staples such as Good Housekeeping, Family Circle and Cooking Light (shock horror -- Americans who spell "Light" the proper way) have all shown ad page gains. All of which should augur well for similar titles over here. But one to watch must be O, Oprah's title, which only launched in mid 2000, but put on 50% more pages, albeit on a higher frequency. Can it be long before Delia, Jamie, Nigella and Lorraine (from Sky, you fools) launch eponymous UK titles?

The other genre to show significant growth was the sports/lifestyle sector (although none is a team sport -- make of that what you will): Ride BMX, Transworld Skateboarding, Transworld Snowboarding and Power and Motoryacht. What to conclude from this, other than a) grunge culture is alive and well; and b) this is what nerds turned to when their dotcom millionaire dreams died.

Now I'm off to fuse these two trends together in my new magazine venture. Advertisers are bound to bite my hand off. Anyone for Family Skateboarding or Motoryacht Cooking?

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