Personal-Finance Titles Boom as Baby Boomers Age

Article excerpt

When SmartMoney and Worth launched last year in the heart of the recession, most media directors and analysts doubted that the market could support two new personal-finance magazines pursuing the same upscale audience. Not only were the 21-year-old Money and 46-year-old Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine already entrenched in the public's consciousness, but it seemed unlikely that in the pared-down nineties the category could attract enough advertising to sustain four titles.

More than 15 months later, with the economy still in the doldrums, those observers have changed their tune. Both launches are running ahead of their most aggressive business plans and have gained an enviable amount of advertiser acceptance in a brief period of time. A combination of well-heeled owners, distinct editorial products and a desperate hunger for financial advice among aging baby boomers has allowed the newcomers to confound conventional wisdom.

"Basically, what we're seeing is two magazines each develop a niche within a niche," says Bob Mancini, director of media services at J. Walter Thompson/Detroit. "At this point in the game, they both look like they are viable media based on the audience and editorial product they're delivering."

The two titles have followed very different launch patterns. Worth, whose owner, Capital Publishing, is a subsidiary of Fidelity Investments, heralded its splashy arrival in February '92 with a Beach Boys concert and other celebrations costing $500,000. The glossy 10-times-a-year magazine concentrates on financial features for the economic elite, eschewing the typical personal-finance service journalism, charts and advice prevalent in the rest of the field. Its literate, Esquire-like mix, unique in the four-title field, has led some to charge that Worth lacks editorial focus.

The hiring of The Wall Street Journal's John Koten as Worth's editor in chief early this year was interpreted by some as an attempt to develop more of a news edge. But CEO Randy Jones dismisses criticism that the magazine has lacked editorial focus. "Our mission was not to build a better mousetrap," says Jones. "We don't give our readers simple answers, but the fabric of knowledge to ask their advisers the right questions and then know if the answers they're getting back are plausible. "

SmartMoney, a joint venture between Dow Jones & Co. and Hearst Magazines, took a more cautious path than Worth, testing issues on the newsstand before making a decision this past February to proceed bimonthly. …