Corner Office Interview: Growing Paid Circulation: A Foreign Concept?
With members such as Angelina Jolie, Brian Williams and Fareed Zakaria, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) would seem to have no problem growing its membership. CFR's magazine—Foreign Affairs (ForeignAffairs.com)—however, faces the same challenges as most magazines today—increased competition from existing and emerging online sources, consumers in a down economy who scrutinize every purchase (and subscription), and a fast-paced, tech-driven society where long-form content is often perceived as old-school or unbefitting of today's on-the-go, bits-and-bytes, instant-access-oriented marketplace. But unlike many other magazines, the 88-year-old Foreign Affairs—which explores issues in American foreign policy and international affairs—not only still derives 90 percent of its revenue from print, it continues to grow its paid circulation and newsstand sales. Its strategy? A focus on content, playing to its strengths and opportunities, and some plain-old smart business acumen.
Despite its continued print success, however, complacency has not set in, nor has resistance to a multiplatform future. Foreign Affairs has been proactive with its Web strategy, ranks among the top publications on Amazon's Kindle, and is currently putting finishing touches on its overall mobile strategy.
Here, Publisher David Kellogg shares with Publishing Executive details behind Foreign Affairs' growth, print and digital strategy, and biggest challenges.
During a period of decline for many magazines, Foreign Affairs has seen consistent growth; to what do you attribute this?
Kellogg: Since 2001, paid circulation has grown by 40 percent to 155,000, and single-copy sales have doubled. One reason is that [Foreign Affairs (FA)] serves two markets that reinforce each other—a vertical market, including the international business and policy communities, and a more general audience of influential opinion leaders who may not be foreign policy specialists. Another reason for the steady growth during a tough economy—in addition to first-class editorial—is that we have had to focus on profitable, quality circulation growth, because we don't have the advertising revenue as a subsidy. While this limited the upside, it also built a solid, reader-driven foundation for the business.