Oprah and Martha's Name Brands Are Losing Luster Fast

Last Updated Jul 27, 2011 1:16 PM EDT

O, no! Is it the end of the reigns for the queens of all media, Oprah and Martha Stewart? Both of their empires are sinking fast in a very stylish shade of red ink.

Oprah's decision to end her syndicated TV show two months ago has clearly hurt her flagship enterprises -- OWN TV network and O magazine. The network hasn't found an audience, perhaps because of uncertainty in the C suite. Oprah recently appointed herself head of the network after two other people, both named Occupant, failed to get people to watch. The hugely diminished power of her brand can be seen in her magazine, which is doing worse than magazines in general and much worse than women's titles in particular.

According to a Media Industry Newsletter report, monthly magazines overall saw a 7 percent ad drop for their August issues. O â€"- Hearst's second-most profitable title after Cosmopolitan â€"- is down 31.4 percent, dropping 81.4 ad pages in August. The trend continued for the September issue, which fell another 18 percent. This while ad pages were rebounding for a number of other titles, including Vogue, In Style and Glamour. Hearst is trying to put a brave face on it by saying the end of the TV show will increase fan interest in O. According to a spokesperson

The magazine is really the purest platform for Oprah's message, and the best place for fans who miss the show to stay engaged with the brand.
Perhaps they're still watching reruns.

Meanwhile, Martha meanders
Stewart's magazine is doing only slightly better -- down 14 percent in August. But, as BNET's Jim Edwards has reported, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) has been bleeding much longer and is running an accumulated deficit of $163 million. MSO has hired Blackstone Group to find a strategic partner and declined to reveal the magazine's September numbers prior to the release of quarterly earnings next week later today.

UPDATE: MSO's earnings were $-0.05 per share. This was down $0.01 from in 2010 and 25 percent lower than analyst expectations, for what that's worth. To me relying on such expectations for anything more than a general indicator is just an excuse for not doing your own research. It's like relying on ratings agencies to tell you what's in a bond. Oooops, did I just say something wrong.

If anyone is going to replace the Divine Duo, it is unlikely to be Rachael Ray. The longtime heir presumptive's magazine, EveryDay with Rachael Ray, saw a 25 percent decline in August ads and is down 16.7 percent year to date. Reader's Digest Association, which publishes the title, has hired Morgan Stanley (MS) and Evercore to shop all or part of the company.

I'm thinking an Oprah, Martha and Rachael three-for-one sale may be in the offing. If Martha does go under, I hope someone will provide a 21-glue-gun salute.

POSTSCRIPT: I just got a call from someone saying they are an investor in MSO and that I said MSO was going under because of the statement above and this had hit the stock price. This tells us that Martha investors are a spectacularly jittery bunch right now as I have never before been accused of being an influence on the market.

He also said I shouldn't do satire in a business article. So for those of you just reading this now - Those final two sentences are HUMOR. They are a comment on the declining influence of the brands as elucidated in the article which preceded it. I like to think that if you read the entire post that is clear. I also like to think The Cubs will some day win the World Series, go figure.


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    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.