Cover Story: Why Are Some Magazines Thriving?
When Phyllis Hoffman started her first magazine, Just Cross Stitch, in 1983, she knew a lot about needlework, but next to nothing about the magazine business.
"We didn't even know what direct mail was. We did not know what rate base was," she says. "We just were having a great time."
As it turns out, that lack of publishing knowledge may have been a good thing. While her background is in numbers (she is a trained CPA), Hoffman has never focused on the magazine numbers game. Instead, her approach has centered around knowing an audience and bringing an enthusiast's passion to the business of magazine publishing.
"Our success in publishing is basically, 'Would I want to read that magazine? Is it applicable to me? Does it benefit my life and where I am today?'" she says. "We don't bargain-basement our magazine [prices] … because if people love your magazines, they will pay for good editorial."
Not surprisingly, Hoffman believes years of living by cheap subscriptions—the Publishers Clearing House model—are at the root of the industry's current problems.
"We are not out to establish a rate base by giving stuff away to sell ads against," she says. "Our magazine numbers that we deliver to advertisers are real numbers, and they are premium numbers. They are paid, and there is nothing gimmicky about it. So if you buy an ad in one of our publications, your ad goes to readers that have paid for that magazine and are excited about it."
It's a philosophy that has guided Hoffman Media through the ups and downs of the business. Phyllis Hoffman also largely credits this philosophy with the success of the company's four-year-old Cooking With Paula Deen, which has been making news lately as one of a select list of magazines seeing ad-page and revenue growth (up for the first six months of 2009 compared to the same period a year earlier) in the midst of a disastrous year for media properties in general.