The New Specialists While magazines that discuss cooking and home furnishings have been around as long as readers have been making meat loaf and moving furniture in the den, the market has taken a dynamic new turn. A mushrooming group of home and culinary magazines has emerged in recent years — slicker, feistier and, in some cases, even healthier than the magazines that gave them their start.
It’s boom time fo these specialty magazines, and while executives see a winnowing out down the road, and youngsters are currently enjoying rising ciruculation and new-found visibility.
Some of these magazines have become stars in their own right in a relatively short span of time. The Hearst Corp.’s Country Living, for example, was ranked among Adweek’s 10 hottest publications for 1983, 1984 and 1985. Six-year-old New Shelter has appeared in Adweek’s hottest small magazines list and was also cited by the Gallagher Report, an insider newsletter, as June’s magazine of the month.
But the pie isn’t getting any bigger in consumer publishing, and the competition for advertisers, who have finite budgets, is getting more and more intense. Executives feel the emerging segment is picking up some of the slack from general interest magazines — particularly in the women’s category — which don’t have the clout or the readership that they used to.
“People are so busy that when they have time, they want to devote it to particular interests,” noted Howard Gurian, national sales manager for Creative Ideas for Living. “Working women, especially, do not want to wade through a lot of articles they’re not necessarily interest in.”
Industry executives also believe many of the older home and food magazines have missed the mark by either being too trendy or promulgating outdated looks. Said one publisher, “Some show that kind of dowdy style our parents decorated in, not the best of our parents’ styles molded to our lifestyles.”
Thomas Wolf, publisher of Country Cooking, agreed “everyone is chipping away at the women’s service pie,” but he views this specialization as a more encompassing trend. People today want more specific information on the types of things they like to do.”
For many of these publications catering to an upwardly mobile, well-educated audience, the intent is to “narrow the appeal in the hopes of eventually broadening it,” according to Tom Troland, marketing director of Country Home, which was originally launched as the annual Country Home and Kitchen Ideas in 1979 by Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Group. Now a bimonthly, it boasts a circulation base of 800,000.
Troland pointed out that as the baby boomers grow up, their impact is being felt in every arena. “No longer does the majority of the population consist of people guessing about their tastes,” he stated. “It is a prime opportunity to learn how to market to people who know exactly what they want.”
Not only do these consumers know what they want, but they have the means to purchase it. Median income for many readers is in the $35,000-plus range; their tastes are sophisticated and their purchases well-informed, magazine executives say.
“People’s homes and how they entertain in them have become as much an expression of lifestyle as the car they drive or the watch they wear. In our market, serving fusilli with pesto sauce is like driving up in a BMW,” noted Jim Berrien, publisher of Food & Wine, a 10-year-old magazine bought two years ago by American Express.
“There has been a growing sophistication with the home-owning public,” said George C. Fields, publisher and vice president of Home magazine, which went from the special interest Hudson Home Guide to its present format in 1981. “The home is being seen, more and more, as a definer of one’s station in life.”
While Home had always concentrated heavily on architecture and design, it has expanded its coverage of home furnishings.
“We don’t want our readers to have to turn to other magazines for furniture and furnishings after they’ve used us for remodeling,” Fields added. “There is also more recognition from advertisers that these areas are not after-the-fact purchases but part of the overall design thrust.”
Some magazines, such as the monthly Creative Ideas for Living, whose name was changed in 1984 from Decorating and Crafts Ideas by Tandy, have tried to join their targeted audience in moving upscale.
“We’ve taken our magazine out of the vertical category of crafts and brought it more into the mainstream,” said Gurian, who pointed out that home furnishings has become an important new emphasis.
“We try to help readers develop their own style,” he added. “Before, if they couldn’t make a quilt or afghan, we really couldn’t help them. Now we’re showing things like how to use a quilt to decorate a home by draping a couch or using it as a backdrop for family photos.”
Also broadening its approach is New Shelter magazine, published by Rodale Press, which changed its name to Practical Homeowner with the September 1986 issue. “Too many people thought we strictly dealt with new homes, whereas we’re more interested in home remodeling and home improvement,” said Bennett Zucker, associate publisher of the magazine, which has a circulation of 700,000 and is directed to the male suburban homeowner.
In addition to showing how to add a bath or put a second story on a house, it is increasingly involved with “how the entire home operates to improve the quality of life,” according to Zucker, from laying out a room for “maximum togetherness” to “what effect color has on emotional well-being.” “People are returning to the home as a source of refuge,” he added.
Even some of the more established magazines have zeroed in on home furnishings to meet changing needs. The bridal market, for example, is undergoing explosive growth. According to Modern Bride’s research department, during the 1980s a total of 24.8 million marriages are projected — more than in any other decade.