The advertisement in publishing trade journals the last few weeks looked familiar.
"Announcing the new weekend magazine that already has a circulation of 13 million!" it said in bold blue and white.
The mock-up front cover showed bold colors and a globe spinning out of the name of the Sunday magazine. It was called "USA Weekend," and it looked a lot like a new section for USA Today newspaper.
Instead, it was the "new" Family Weekly magazine, a drastic revamping of the folksy Sunday supplement purchased last March by Gannett Co. for a reported $42 million.
The resemblance to USA Today was too unnerving for a number of the publications that carry Family Weekly, which feel they are in competition with Gannett's flagship nationwide newspaper. They decided they'd rather not run what appeared to them to be a free promotion for the other guy.
"What you might be telling a subscriber who read this magazine is, 'Hey, maybe you should try USA Today. You might like it better than us,' " said Wylie W. Spurgeon, execcutive editor of the Muncie (Ind.) Star and Evening Press.
So Muncie, which has two Gannett newspapers nearby and USA Today available in most of the local drugstores, decided to bolt to Parade, along with 128 other newspapers. By contrast, 11 Parade clients to date have changed to the new Family Weekly, all of them owned by Gannett.
Gannett Vice President for Communications, Charles Overby, said recently that the loss will be offset by a gain of about 40 papers, including the 11 owned by Gannett. As a result, USA Weekend hopes to maintain a circulation of about 12 million, he said. That compares with Parade's circulation of 29.8 million readers as of its Sept. 22 issue, a climb of more than 4.5 million since March.
"There's a realignment going on. We expect to be delivering the same circulation as before except of a higher quality," Ramon Gaulke, president of USA Weekend, told Advertising Age. "Nobody here was surprised by the fact that a number of smaller newspapers were frightened by the product."
But was the format change a big mistake?
"Not at all," said Overby. "We think it delivers in shorthand terms to the reader what we're trying to do to the magazine. Short stories, upbeat. Once the readers get their hands on this, it's really going to be a success. The advertisers already understand this."
Larry Tarleton, managing editor for news at The Dallas Times-Herald, said that his paper picked up the new USA Weekend "as part of our new, expanded Sunday package." The Herald dropped Parade a few years ago, and The Morning News then picked it up.
"Obviously, Parade was not available, and we never thought that much of the Family Weekly product until Gannett bought it. I know a lot of editors are concerned about [the format], but USA Today is not that strong in Dallas, so it wasn't that much of a problem for us," Tarleton said.
Although a few papers still may switch, the main realignment period may well be over, as USA Weekend plans to come out with its first edition in early September.
"I don't think there's a battle between USA and Parade. A lot of people think there's some huge conflict. We're really a kind of beneficiary," said Carlo Vittorini, president and publisher of Parade Publications. "We're the beneficiary of the decision to make a format change that wasn't acceptable to a lot of papers."
If the competition sounds altogether too friendly, Vittorini suggests that's because Parade's wholly owned subsidiary, Diversified Printing Corp., will print USA Weekend.
Acknowledges Overby, "They do a real good job."