`HG' May Signal Shake-Up Among Home Magazines

THE demise of HG - a venerable home and decorating magazine founded in 1901 and once known as House & Garden - is raising concern within the advertising and publishing industries about the well-being of other mass-circulation decorating magazines.

The announcement of HG's closure "came as a shock," says Marcia Jenkins, a consultant with McNamee Consulting Company, a publishing/direct marketing firm. "But in the end, Conde Nast Publications [HG's publisher] made a commitment not to dilute their editorial product" by publishing both HG and Architectural Digest. Conde Nast recently acquired Architectural Digest from Knapp Communications.

With a circulation of slightly under 700,000 at the end of 1992, HG was out front of rival Architectural Digest by roughly 50,000 subscribers. The problem, Ms. Jenkins notes, is advertising: Both magazines have seen declines in ad revenues in the past year but the falloff was sharper at HG. Last year HG trailed Architectural Digest by some 400 ad pages. Page rates were lower for HG, resulting in less income for Conde Nast.

"Architectural Digest is considered ... the ultimate authority for ideas in decorating," says a media consultant who has worked with such publishing giants as Time Inc. Architectural Digest is popular within the home furnishings and architectural professions, he says. HG, by contrast, is more of a general interest magazine.

Several key demographic statistics could explain why Conde Nast made the decision to go with its new acquisition over the older HG:

Architectural Digest readers, on average, are in their late 30s; HG readers are mostly in their 40s. Architectural Digest's readership is split almost equally between males and females. HG's readership is about 80 percent female and 20 percent male. Perhaps most crucial, the average adult medium household income of HG readers is more than $48,000, compared with almost $59,000 for Architectural Digest.

Some media analysts wonder if other general interest "shelter" magazines (as the home decorating magazines are known within the industry) might also face merger or closing. Prominent shelter publications include House Beautiful and Town and Country, published by the Hearst Corporation, as well as Metropolitan Home, Home Magazine, and Elle Decor, published by Hachette Magazines Inc.

Advertising revenue in general is up some 7 percent this year, but "there's a real cautiousness" within publishing circles about the full extent of the economic recovery, says Fred Danzig, editor of Advertising Age magazine. Mr. Danzig says he cannot recall any recession since World War II that has hit the magazine and advertising industries "as hard" as this last recession has.

While most Americans are familiar with national home magazines, the greatest expansion in shelter magazines has occurred at the local "niche" market level. In a number of cities in the United States, publishing houses produce local home decorating magazines, some of them with fairly large circulations. Some analysts say that HG's losses were running between $3 million and $10 million annually, according to Magazine Week, a news weekly that monitors the magazine industry. Conde Nast was said to rely on su bsidized subscriptions to boost overall circulation for HG. Conde Nast is a privately held company; financial numbers for its individual magazines are usually closely guarded.

Conde Nast has said that it will close the 92-year-old HG after the July issue. Despite the similarity between HG and Architectural Digest, there is reportedly little overlap in subscribers. The only other prominent Conde Nast publication ever canceled was Vanity Fair, which was discontinued in the 1930s but started up again in 1983. Some industry observers say HG might also win a reprieve in the future, particularly if there is a backlash by readers or advertisers against Architectural Digest.

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