This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone these days,  but the New York Post is reporting that magazine print advertisement sales have declined 21.5% during the first quarter of 2009 (as compared to Q1, 2008).

From the article:

MAGAZINES are generally seen as good early warning signs for economic downturns. The thinking is that corporations would rather cut back on ads before they actually have to start cutting back on people.

If that thinking holds, we’re in for a long and deep recession.

Tomorrow, Media Industry Newsletter is releasing its report on the first quarter of 2009 and it will show ad pages have tumbled a numbing 21.5 percent for monthlies in the period compared with the first quarter of 2008. (MIN gets early numbers because the March issues are starting to hit newsstands.)

In comparison, in the first quarter of 2008 magazines had just gone negative, dropping 4.6 percent after racking up small gains for most of 2007. Ad pages have now been falling for five straight quarters, MIN reports.

For many of these companies, the inevitable decline in print advertising sales has been written on the wall for some time now. However, I think it’s likely that executives thought that this would be more gradual, giving them time to reevaluate their options, rejigger costs, and attempt to modify their online presence.

While the vast majority of print publications have made the transition to (or integration with) the online space, it appears that many haven’t figured successful ways to monetize their content, and still rely heavily on their print ads as a source of revenue.

Should this decline continue into the next quarter (Q2), I fully expect that the gradual layoffs that have been seen throughout the mass-media industry will be significantly intensified, driving unemployment rates even higher.

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