I know you’ve seen them – but did you know what you were looking at? I’m talking about a hybrid between a book and a magazine. It looks like a magazine and can be found on magazine racks in retail locations, but it’s something else entirely.
One of the sessions at last week’s Publishing Business Conference & Expo in NYC included a presentation by Mark W. White, VP of Specialty Marketing for US News & World Report. It was a session about finding more profitability in the magazine retail market.
Consumer magazines count on supermarkets and bookstores for most of their sales, but both channels are down dramatically since the recession. Trips to stores are down, thanks to rising gas prices.* Add to that the impact of Borders going under and Barnes & Noble pushing ebooks on their Nook e-readers, and you can see how sales of magazines have been impacted.
Competition among retailers is very fierce, and publishers are trying to differentiate their products. One way to do this is with new formats and new pricing structures.
White spoke about how US News reacted to the decline of newsstand sales. In essence, they turned their “newsstand-only” products into “newsstand-plus” products. In doing so, they broke the 11 unwritten rules of bookazine publishing.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a “bookazine” looks like a magazine but acts like a book. It’s neither a weekly nor a monthly. It’s sold at newsstands as well as in the magazine sections of retail stores. It is a hybrid publication, usually born from a magazine. It is not part of the normal frequency schedule. Its cover price is somewhere between $9.95 and $19.99. There’s usually little or no advertising inside.
Mark gave this example: let’s say you’re an empty nester, and you and your spouse want to focus on cooking healthier meals for the two of you. You could pick up a copy of a special Cooking Light publication that featured cooking for two, rather than a regular issue of the magazine that had only one article about cooking for two.
This is the power of bookazines: they focus on a specific need. They have great visibility and are consistent with their brand.
What are those unwritten 11 bookazine rules that US News & World Report broke?
1. Impulse buy. “The US News brand has always been about people seeking information and answers rather than about impulse decisions,” White noted.
2. Spinoff of a subscription magazine
3. Includes a subscription offer for parent title
4. Few ad pages
5. No ratebase. (Four US News bookazines have ratebases, which are guarantees made to advertisers regarding the minimum number of copies that will be sold or mailed.)
6. No controlled circulation, which are copies sent free of charge to the recipient.
7. Sold only on newsstands. “That’s crazy,” said White, “why’d we ever think this way?” US News now sells its bookazines on Amazon, its own web site, and other venues. It’s also set its sights on other web stores, e-editions, historic sites, and science museums.
8. On sale only 3 months
9. Not suited to B2B advertisers
10. Not suited to bulk sales
11. Not suited to libraries
Bottom line, says White? “You have to be nimble in the magazine business. It all starts with your magazine brand.” Some of the publisher’s best-selling hybrids are these: Best Graduate Schools, Best Colleges, Best Hospitals, and 50 Smart Money Moves.
Let me publicly thank Mark for his presentation and for sharing his knowledge with us. You can reach him via email at MWHITE@usnews.com.
What I took away from this presentation was not just information about the bookazine as a hybrid product. It inspired me as a print media professional to keep exploring new formats and sales channels. New possibilities await us all.
* The impact of gas prices on retail magazine sales is enormous. There is a direct correlation, though it trails by a couple of months. Gas went up in April but magazines did NOT tail off. Any guesses why? Answer will appear next week.
© 2012 Margie Dana. All rights reserved. You’re free to forward this email. However, no part of this column may be reprinted without permission from the author.