Correction to This Article
In an earlier version of this story, it was incorrectly noted that Meredith Corporation had announced the demise of Country Living. The company announced that Country Home had been shut down.

Home Design Magazines Find No Shelter From the Economic Slump

By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009

The first one to go was House & Garden.

In November 2007, the 106-year-old magazine unexpectedly ceased publication. Soon after, Time Inc.'s In Style Home and Martha Stewart's Blueprint folded, and late last summer, Hachette Filipacchi Media's Home shuttered.

Since November, three more home design magazines announced their demise: Time Inc.'s Cottage Living, Hearst Magazines' O at Home and Meredith Corp.'s Country Home. Recently, media reports have said that Condé Nast's Domino is in trouble, too.

Times are tough all around, but especially so in the shelter magazine industry.

Those looking to point a finger for the shuttering of their favorite home design magazines can blame the over-saturation of them in the market and the 24-hour availability of design information on TV, radio and the Internet. Of course, the biggest contributor, experts say, is the economic downturn.

"It's a combination of all of those factors," says Deborah Burns, senior vice president of the Luxury Design Group, who oversees Metropolitan Home and Elle Decor magazines. "But there's a housing crisis, a financial crisis and automotive crisis. All the U.S. economic conditions definitely affect this category."

Launching and maintaining a successful print magazine is difficult enough in a healthy economy. But if any problems exist in a publication, a bad economy just may sink it.

"In a downturn, the leaders are the ones that survive while the weaker ones fall away quickly," says Stephen Drucker, editor of House Beautiful magazine. "That's what's happening."

Unfortunately, a loyal fan base and high circulation don't necessarily mean survival. The bulk of a magazine's revenue comes from advertising. When ad dollars fall, revenue from other sources is typically not enough to sustain a publication. House & Garden, for example, had a circulation of nearly 1 million when it died.

"The patient always dies of not enough ad pages," Drucker says, "but the overall illness of each magazine is different."

A good example is Cottage Living. Launched in September 2004, the well-liked niche magazine enjoyed quick success: It steadily increased its circulation within a short period (it eventually exceeded 1 million) and was named Adweek's start-up of the year in 2005. Despite the positive feedback, advertising began to decline. The November-December 2008 issue was its last.

"Cottage Living was very popular with readers," says Time Inc. spokeswoman Dawn Bridges, "but unfortunately, the economic slowdown made it difficult to give it the resources it needed to grow." Translation: It was losing money.

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