look for Mutual Funds
Talking straight to
investors in these tough times
By Jamie L. Jones
It is as predictable as the turning of the
leaves in fall, though a lot more ruthless.
When the economy heads toward a downturn, ad pages of
personal investment magazines are swept away as so many brown leaves taken
away in a gust of autumn wind.
Readers, whether having taken a market beating or not, revert to
reading home improvement magazines and otherwise musing on how to economize
for the coming hard times.
Who wants to read about investing when the dollars are no longer there to
Likewise, who wants to advertise investment opportunities in a time
Mutual Funds magazine believes it has found answers to those
questions, and it hopes to make them to both readers and advertisers in a
massive redesign--call it even a relaunch--in January.
"Even though the bull market has petered out, personal finance issues loom
larger than ever," says John Curran, managing editor of Mutual Funds
magazine, a Time Inc. property.
Forget the bull market, when one stock tip was as good as
another. In these hard times, Curran is preaching the gospel of good
"I say and have said that part of the reason for putting out this new
design is that the era of stupid stock-picking is over."
"What I mean by that is that with the bull market raging, even bad
stock-picking decisions usually paid off. So, many people were inclined to
make superficial investment decisions. Those days are over, and decisions
have to be much smarter."
As much sense as this argument may make, though, it
has certainly been made before, and by others, in past downturns.
One wonders whether it will do any better this time, and
whether a better-looking, even a better-reading and smarter magazine, will
reverse these longstanding marketplace realities.
As to the state of the personal finance category, the numbers tell
Ad pages year-to-date at Mutual Funds magazine are down 22.2 percent over
last year, to 393.5, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Revenue
is off 15.1 percent, to $25,642,766.
And the magazine is by no means the worst off in the category.
Ad pages year-to-date at Worth magazine, for example, are down 32 percent
over last year, to 380.58. Revenue is down 25.8 percent, to $20,038,034.
Forbes Magazine is off 32.7 percent in ad pages
over last year and 23.4 percent off in ad revenue, in declines that are
pushing the magazine to a round of job cuts, its first in years.
The deep losses in this category stem naturally from the
troubled endemic advertising base, which for Mutual Funds accounts for about
70 percent of its advertising.
But here Mutual Funds has an advantage working for it that is not
enjoyed by its competitors, its membership in the Time Inc. family, which
has relationships extending well beyond personal finance advertisers, to
include technology, luxury goods and
The argument to advertisers: Our readers may be reading us as an
investment vehicle but they are first of all consumers, and desirable
The chief goal, says Curran, will be retaining readers and
"Bad market performance really does drive people away," says Curran.
"The personal finance category is suffering from a number of things,
primarily the bear market, which has diminished interest in investing.
"Also, personal finance magazines got caught up in the bull market, and made
stock picking seem too easy. So there's a credibility problem in some of the
magazines that adds to the disenchantment," says Curran.
In its redesign, which has been in the works for six
months, the goal is to take an already vertical magazine and make it even
The goal: Cover mutual funds and personal investing generally
excluding the lifestyle fodder common among so many investment magazines.
Several new departments will crop up in the front and the back of the book.
Many address goal-oriented financial planning and seek to offer actionable
tips on planning for college payments, for example, or retirement.
The financial planners whose expertise
informs many departments will be listed by name, company, email and phone number in
a box alongside their contributions.
The accountability effort will "hold their feet to the fire," says Curran,
and help readers learn to navigate the financial community.
"The financial planning community is like the medical community of the
West in the 1800s. There was an enormous need for doctors, but people had no
way of knowing who was a good doctor, and who was a quack," says Curran.
The Mutual Funds redesign is so vast that editors are comfortable calling it
And to those who suggest that such a huge effort is ill-timed for a magazine
posting double-digit ad losses, publisher Mike Dukmejian explains that the
redesign is like all prudent financial moves, a sound investment.
"Sept. 11 seems to delay people's decision-making for next year. Other
than that, in my mind things like this just make us stronger in believing
what we're doing, and doing it--not retreating," says Dukmejian.
22, 2001 © 2001 Media Life
-Jamie L. Jones is
a staff writer for Media Life.
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