ASBPE Editors Cautiously Optimistic for First Quarter 2003

ASBPE survey also reveals info on ad-edit ratios, staff size.
January 2003 — Results of a survey sent to 500 ASBPE members via e-mail in December suggest that 2003 will be an improved year for advertising sales. More than 100 editors, each representing a different publication, responded to this survey, which asked about ad sales in the previous and upcoming sales quarters.
The survey also questioned editors about ad-to-edit page ratios and staff sizes.
Most Expect Sales To Increase
Editors’ responses to questions about advertising sales trends suggest a fair amount of cautious optimism for 2003.

  • Significantly, slightly more than 50% of those responding predict that ad sales will increase over their next three issues.
  • Another 43% believe that ad sales will remain steady over the next three issues.

Not unusual, some editors report that their magazines are offering deep discounts to advertisers, while others report adhering closely to their rate cards.
One magazine offering deep discounts reports that sales for January are about fivefold from their usual January level. It’s not known whether the discounts or various other factors are primarily responsible for this increase.
Other editors report that their competitors are slashing prices, and, sometimes, slashing editorial standards right along with that.

On the other hand, editors responding from “high-tech” publications are indicating a mixed quarter to come. One editor says that they expect they might see some recovery beginning later in the year, but no real turnaround until well in 2004. Others say their clients are beginning to show more optimism about the future.
In terms of whether their previous three issues had seen sales increases, decreases or steady levels, editors were evenly divided:

  • Approximately one-third said that sales had gone up recently.
  • About one-third said sales had gone down.
  • About one-third said sales had been steady.

Ad:Edit Page Ratios
Closely related to ad sales trends are issues concerning number of editorial pages being published, and, especially, ad-to-edit ratios. Ad sales may be beginning to improve, but the effect on ad-to-edit ratios remains, as always, a moving target.
About 65% of the magazines responding to this survey said they must abide by a specific ad-to-edit ratio, while the remainder said they do not. One editor commented that his/her publisher will be requiring a much stricter adherence to a specific ratio in 2003.
Of those who reported that they do have a specific ad-to-edit ratio to adhere to, the most common ratios reported were as follows:

  • 27% (19) of respondents cited a 50:50 ratio.
  • 24% (17) said their ad-to-edit ratio was 60:40.
  • 17% (12) reported ratios somewhere between 50:50 and 60:40.
  • 11% (8) reported ratios with ad percentages of 65% or higher.
  • 14% had ad percentages of 40% or less.

Of the 40 publications that do not have a specific ratio to adhere to:

  • 17.5% (7) of the respondents cited a ratio of 25:75.
  • 17.5% (7) of the respondents cited a ratio of 40:60.
  • 12.5% (5) reported their ratio for the last quarter was 30:70.

Staff Sizes, Editorial Pages
Naturally, there is tremendous variation among the publications represented here in terms of numbers of editorial pages they produce and the sizes of their staffs. Editors were asked to report the average number of editorial pages published in their last three issues. The results:

  • Responses ranged from a low of 10 pages to a high of 216 pages per issue.
  • Most (77%) were producing under 50 pages per issue.
  • Only some 20% are producing fewer than 30 pages of editorial.

Even more variation was seen in the number and type of staff these magazines employ. Of the 115 responding:

  • Ten publications have no full-time editors or artists; their staff work on more than one publication.
  • Three magazines employ 35 or more full-time editors/artists, but almost all the rest are in the single digits.
  • Most magazines (71%) employ some part-time editors/artists.