If, as many believe, the future of magazine publishing is niche, then it makes sense to look to niche publishers for clues to revenue models, products and strategies that will carry the industry forward. As experts on the passions and preferences of audiences, no sector of this business may be better equipped to lead the way forward than those in the enthusiast camp.
"We are in the market niche that everybody says you want to be in, which is specialty markets," says Kevin Keefe, editorial vice president and publisher at Waukesha, WI-based Kalmbach Publishing. "We've been very successful and lucky over the years to have markets where it is easy to establish and identify what the core group's passion is."
None of which is to say enthusiast publishers don't work very hard to earn and keep their readers. When Kalmbach moved all editorial operations of Discover magazine (which it bought from Discover Media LLC in 2010) from New York to suburban Milwaukee, the company took pains to highlight the scientific and journalistic expertise of the carefully-picked staff. More than any other consumer publishing sector, enthusiast audiences know their subject, and demand quality.
They can also be famously loyal, renewing at above-average rates and providing circulation revenue support at percentages Conde Nast would envy. At Kalmbach, two-thirds of revenue comes from subscriptions and newsstand sales, Keefe says.
"One of the many reasons we were attracted to Discover was because … it has a higher-than-average subscription base," he says. "There are a lot of people who have been subscribing for a long time and they renew at an above-average rate. And that is the model for this company, as opposed to an ad-driven model."
Capturing a devoted audience naturally makes a publisher more recession proof; many enthusiast publishers weathered the dark days of 2009-2010 better than their industry peers. It also brings a special responsibility.