''Women's Magazines Hope Changes Halt Decline''
"Women's Magazines Hope Changes Halt Decline" by Dierdre Carmody [1990 NY
Times News Service]
In magazines as in life, being known as someone's sister can be a badge of
pride -- or a real drag.
For more than 50 years, it was a badge of pride for the mass-market women's
magazines known as the Seven Sisters: Better Homes & Gardens, Family
Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's, Redbook and
Women's Day. These cheerful magazines were a cherished part of the
culture and as American as mom and apple pie -- both of which have been
featured prominently in their pages over the years.
But times and tastes have changed.
Women went off to work in increasing numbers and lost their leisure time.
New magazines, springing up to meet changing needs, attracted away
readers. In 1979, the Seven Sisters had a combined circultation of 45
million. By last year it was 37 million and falling. In addition, the
women's magazines have felt the pinch of the industrywide decline in
adversiting this year.
Determined to halt their circulation slippage, the Seven Sisters are in a
period of self-examination. Not least among nagging questions is whether
their group identity has become a liability and, in these days of intense
newsstand competition, if it si not time for each magazine to create a more
Later this month, McCall's will come out with its September issue, sporting
a striking new cover that makes it look more like a fashion magazine than
one of the Sisters.
McCall's was in last place among the Seven Sisters in the number of
advertising pages for the first half of this year. The make-over, which
has been evolving for the last six months, is meant to attract a better
educated and more sophisticated reader. "I really think that what we are
doing is redefining what all women's magazines can and should be," said
Michael Golden, the publisher of McCall's, which, at 114, is the oldest of
the Sisters. For about a year, McCall's has been owned by New York Times
"Looking at the field, we realized that the whole category of women's
service magazines tends to address the mass audience of American women
with certain assumptuions as to who these women are, but the assertions
may not be valid for baby boomers, who tend to see themselves as more
fully empowered adults," he said. "We are adjusting our editorial voice
in a way that will be comfortable with this generation of women."
Anne Mollegen Smith, the editor in chief of McCall's, said women's
magazines have had a tendency to talk down to women as if they were
children needing endless reiterations of basics.
Among the changes in the magazines, she said, McCall's traditional "The
Mother's Page" will no longer be written by professionals but by readers
themselves talking about mutual problems. Smith said the tone of articles
would be more positive ("Three Ways to Boost Your Immune System," instead
of "Ten Diseases Your Doctor May Have Missed").
For the last six months of 1989 -- the most recent figures available from
the Audit Bureau of Circulations -- McCall's had a circulation of about
5.1 million, a 1.1 percent decline from the period a year earlier.
Redbook, which is published by the Hearst Corp., has also made changes
recently. Its cover, too, has a cleaner, less busy look, and the magazine
has added three new departments, entitled "Great Looks," "Parents & Kids,"
and "Good Health." "We have tried to achieve an upscale contemporary
look to reflect young working mothers with kids," said Daniel E. Zucchi,
Redbook's president and publisher.
Redbook's circulation was 3.9 million at the end of last year, a 1.2
While advertisers have always coveted younger readers, the median age of
Seven Sisters' readers ranges from 39 to 44. Still, older readers are
also attracting interest. "The mature market is one of the hot areas
these days, and these books are selling to an older market," said Abbott
Wool, director of client media services at Vitt Media International. "If
their median age gets older, you realize where their potential market is.
We used to talk about 18 to 49, but we have started saying 25 to 54. It
may be a whole new market."
Women's Day has been undergoing turmoil. The magazine was recently put up
for sale and then withdrawn from the block by Diamandis Communications, a
subsidiary of Hachette Publications, when no bidder met the asking price.
Woman's Day has been one of the magazines hardest hit by the decline in
advertising in the women's field. Its circulation at the end of last year
was 4.7 million, a 15.6 percent decline. With few subscriptions, Woman's
Day has been most hurt by the overall decline in single-copy sales. In
1979, for instance, it sold more than 7.5 million copies at newsstands and
in supermarkets. Last year the newsstand number had fallen to about 4.6
New features in Woman's Day include shorter articles, a new logotype that
is easier to read at a distance, a pretty young woman on the cover instead
of a plate of food, and new typefaces throughout the magazine.
The question is, of course, if the Seven Sisters all streamline their
covers and update their look, will they all end up looking the same?
Absolutely not, their publishers retort.
Family Circle, for example, is taking a different editorial approach from
the other magazines. It is focusing on environmental concerns and
harder-hitting articles. Like McCall's, Family Circle is owned by New
York Times Co. Its circulation last year was about 5.5 million, a 7.8
The August issue has an article, "Toxic Nightmare on Main Street," that
examines Jacksonville, Ark., where 26 people in a four-block area have
died of brain tumors and breast and lung cancer since 1970.
"There's a certain level of reality in these magazines," said Jacqueline
Leo, editor in chief of Family Circile. "A magazine like Family Circle
delivers information from a certain point of view to people who need to
control their lives and who can't rely on a dinner party to give them
Ladies' Home Journal, published by Meredith Corp., and Good Housekeeping,
published by Hearst, believe in evolutionary rather than revolutionary
change. "We've taken a very strong property and are continuting to do
what we have done so successfully, which is to edit the magazine to the
highest common denominator of the mainstream woman," said Donna Galotti,
vice president and publisher of Ladies' Home Journal.
Ladies' Home Journal's circulation totaled about 5 million for the last
half of 1989, a 1 percent decline, while Good Housekeeping's was about 5.2
million, a 2 percent decrease.
The odd sister of the seven is Meredith's Better Homes & Gardens, which
really belongs in the women's home-decorating category rather than the
women's services field.
It has consistently and significantly outsold the others for years. Its
circulation last year was 8 million -- a figure that remained more or less
flat over the last decade -- and it showed a 1.7 percent decline fromt he
last six months of 1988.
Where did the readers who deserted the Seven Sisters go?
Mostly to other, more specialized magazines, said James R. Guthrie,
executive vice president for marketing at the Magazine Publishers of
America. Those who once read a mass-market women's magazine mainly for
its food information are now probably reading specialized food
"The aggregate circulation of all magazines is growing at almost twice the
rate of all population growth, so we know that they are not dropping out as
readers," Guthrie said. "We also know that over the last five years there
has been no decline in the average number of magazines read by the average
reader -- 10 issues per adult reader per month -- and that 90 percent of
U.S. adult women read an average of 10.3 different issues during the
average month," he said.
In other words, if the reader is still reading, a redesign or rethinking of
the magazine's focus has a fighting chance of bringing her into the fold.