How to Niche-ify Your Magazine
Newsweek lost millions of dollars annually when its circulation exceeded three million, but the magazine is now profitable with a print order of only 100,000. Million-plus titles like Lucky and Ladies Home Journal are biting the dust, while every week it seems that another digital-native company announces a print magazine that has relatively minuscule circulation.
Just a decade or so ago, an acquisition-minded publishing company put out word that it wouldn’t even look at a magazine that had a ratebase of less than 500,000. But now that digital media have given advertisers so many efficient ways to reach masses of consumers, scale is no longer the obvious path to publishing profitability.
The digital natives entering our business have a lesson for us traditionalists: More than ever, printed magazines are the ideal medium for those who want deep engagement with a specific niche — and who are willing to pay for it.
Now we just need to learn how to niche-ify our magazines.
It amazes me how often people in this business are surprised to discover that not every copy of a magazine has to be identical. Some veterans of big consumer magazines know that subscriber copies can contain regionally or demographically targeted sections. But those are often of dubious value to the publisher, resulting in lower rates for advertisers without doing much for the magazine’s costs.
The most valuable nicheification vehicles grab the targeted audience’s immediate attention. People will definitely see a special report that is polybagged with their magazine. Likewise a cover wrap, which can contain a targeted or even personalized message. Even a simple bellyband guarantees that someone will see the sponsor’s message before opening the magazine.
A glossy special section — perhaps narrower or shorter than the magazine itself, so that it really stands out — can be a good fit when several advertisers want to reach the same highly valuable targets for whom you can create irresistible content. A custom cover with glitter, fluorescent ink, foil, or embossing can really grab someone’s attention. But even a simple sticker (sometimes called a “dot whack”) can be an effective eye catcher, whether used alone or to call attention to a special section or insert.
The right poster, calendar, or refrigerator magnet inserted into the magazine can be a “keeper” that the target audience sees for many months to come. Talk to your printer about its offering of high-profile gimmicks. Many printers provide sample books, digital presentations, and videos that can give you plenty of great ideas. My previous Publishing Executive article, “34 Tricks Print Mags Can Do That Apps Can’t,” may also be of help.
But some of these treatments are more expensive on a per-thousand basis than pages in a magazine, and reaching the right audience could require printing additional copies. That means you have to charge advertisers a high CPM (cost per thousand copies). And to do that, you have to provide them a special audience (unless you’re lucky enough to find an advertiser that will pay for a cover wrap on all of your subscriber copies).
Publishing people tend to look only at their own subscriber file for such special audiences. But think about it from the advertiser’s point of view. Are there people an advertiser or potential advertiser would love to reach and who would be interested in your magazine’s content (or in a special section or publication you could produce)?
Your boating magazine may be targeted to consumers, but is it of interest to C-level executives at boating manufacturers? Or the owners and managers of boat dealers?
Your fashion magazine may sell ads for an expensive line of shoes. But as valuable as your subscribers are to that advertiser, wouldn’t it really love to reach the salespeople in stores that carry its products — perhaps to help explain why its shoes command a higher price than the competition’s? Here’s where print advertising really shines: Your advertiser can probably provide the mailing addresses (but not necessarily the email addresses) of every one of those stores. If done well, the targeted promotion will achieve open rates and average “time spent on page” engagement that would be the envy of any digital marketer.
Trade shows, fairs, and other events can be easy ways to target people in a specific industry or who share a particular passion. I know of one magazine that achieves 30% of its ratebase circulation by selling customized copies to advertisers that then distribute the copies at events.
I’ve seen effective targeting of cover wraps on public-place copies, such as promotions for eyewear or eye medicines in the waiting room of an ophthalmologist. Pediatricians’ offices provide targeting for parents of children, while orthodontists have an even more targeted clientele. (And just because a copy goes to a doctor’s office doesn’t mean it has to be for a health-related product.) Copies sent to gyms, select hotel chains, B&Bs, and car-repair shops can also provide attractive demographic and psychographic targeting.
Your magazine and brand may be sufficient to grab and hold the targeted audience’s attention, but special editorial content may be in order, especially for multi-page special sections. Perhaps your sponsor already has a white paper, infographic, or other content marketing that would be of interest to the audience.
But if publisher-provided content is needed, you don’t have to start from scratch. See what’s in your archives and on your web site — maybe images, excerpts, or entire articles — that might be of special relevance to the target audience. Or provide them more in-depth information than is in a run-of-press article — for example, the entire transcript of an interview with an important industry figure rather than just quotations from the interview.
You can use your web site to magnify the targeted content’s impact. Offer a free download of a special section, for example, to those who provide their email address. That will put the sponsors’ messages in front of more people and increase the value of your reader database.