No Shelter in a Storm! As Economy Quakes, Home Mags Teeter

The conventional wisdom is that shelter magazines are recession-proof. When people are getting laid off, they’re spending more time at home—and home might as well look nice!

But there’s something different about this downturn.

“You’ll see further fallout,” said Kate Kelly Smith, the publisher of House Beautiful. “There’s just not enough revenue out there to support all these [shelter] titles. We’ve already seen it, and we’ll continue to see it.”

Ms. Smith saw it firsthand at her parent company, Hearst, which on Friday, Nov. 7, folded O at Home, reassigning its editor, Sarah Gray Miller, to another struggling Hearst shelter title, Country Living.

There’s demolition dust everywhere. In August, Hachette closed Home; in September, Meredith Corporation cut the frequency of Country Home from 10 times a year to 8 times a year; last year, Condé Nast folded House & Garden and scaled back Vogue Living. The omnipotent-seeming Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia folded Blueprint. And three weeks ago, as part of a massive cost-cutting measure, Time Inc eliminated about 30 jobs from shelter books, including Cottage Living, Southern Living and Coastal Living.

“We’ll have none or very few regional magazines that are specific to the niche,” Ms. Smith predicted. “I think there will be fewer players.”

Even before the economy imploded, the raw numbers were bleak: Ad pages in Better Homes and Gardens have fallen 17 percent this year, according to Media Industry Newsletter; Country Home is down 22 percent; Dwell is down 11 percent; Country Living 10 percent.

Only a few pillars of the industry are still standing tall: Architectural Digest, the Vogue of shelters, has lost only 2 percent of its ad pages year to date; Elle Decor fell back only 1.85 percent. And Ms. Smith’s House Beautiful, no doubt benefiting from a field without House & Garden, has seen ad pages increase 8 percent year to date.

Conde Nast’s Domino has not gotten the same kick from the elimination of its sister publication. Ad pages are down only 2 percent, but speculation is swirling at 4 Times Square that the title, edited by Deborah Needleman, is due for a tumble. “Domino is having a horrible time,” said one Condé Nast insider. “If you look in their current issue, it’s not even all about shelter. It’s very intense with how much fashion editorial there is.”

Asked for comment, a Condé Nast spokeswoman conveyed a reassuring message from company CEO Chuck Townsend: “Ad revenue is off at Domino like it is across the industry, but the magazine is way ahead of our original plans to circulate it in the marketplace.”

jkoblin@observer.com