Increasingly, publishers are targeting their readers through special interest publications (SIPs) that have become popular vehicles to generate additional single-copy revenues and build brand equity.
For example, Des Moines, Iowa-based Meredith Corporation, publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, puts out over 100 SIPs per year. The publisher gets its ideas for its SIPs by seeing what sections are most popular in the magazine. In doing so, it will monitor consumer feedback, letters to the editor, and the success of certain cover themes as a means to develop a successful special interest issue.
"We might put out a monthly issue of 300 pages," said Ron Murray, Meredith's director of retail sales, "but only 20 will be geared to gardening. What we'll do is that we'll create a special issue dealing only with gardening, which is an area we cover well."
SIPs cover other topics as well, such as decorating, crafts and holiday themes, and range from 144 to 200 pages. Recent titles have been Flower Gardening; Garden, Deck and Landscape Ideas; Window and Wall Ideas; Bedroom and Bath Ideas; and Quick and Easy Modeling Ideas. SIPs generally retail for $4.99, while the monthly magazine sells for $2.99.
Branding is an important element of the marketing process as well. Meredith's SIPs carry a cover banner that specifically states "Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publication." Murray said it's the magazine's "strong brand equity" that resonates for consumers and retailers alike.
"Better Homes and Gardens is a strong brand name with consumers," he said. "As a monthly publication, it has a strong reach. We also have strong distribution and display equity, with over 300,000 checkout pockets. With that kind of brand and display, when you add up the special interest titles, you're looking at $100 million annually."
Branding is important, too, for magazines such as Health and TV Guide.
Health puts out a book, Women's Health Guide, which sells for $9.95, and Beauty and Fitness, a summer SIP that sells for $5.95.
Jennifer Deans, advertising director, said the Beauty and Fitness SIP is produced on very heavy paper stock, with a low ad-to-edit ratio.
"It's more of a keepsake issue," she said. "It contains information that you can refer to over and over, as does the book. They're items you keep on the bookshelf and go back to."
Beauty and Fitness looks somewhat like Health magazine. It has a distinct look and feel to it, but it's priced differently, "for someone who wants to read a magazine differently," Deans explained.
Health also creates specially-themed issues within its normal publication schedule of nine issues per year. Its most popular is its "Healthiest Beauty Product Awards" issue, which comes out every November/December.
"It's now an annual event that our readers look for," she said. "What's so great about it is that dermatologists rate the products in 10 categories. We build further excitement around it by giving out the awards at an event at the W Hotel." This year's ceremony was hosted by Joy Behar, and the lifetime achievement award went to Lauren Hutton.
Deans said in-store awareness of the issue is created by stickering the winning items in the beauty aisle. "We let the consumer know at the retail level that a certain product is a winner," she said. "What's exciting is that they read about the product in the magazine, then go find it in the beauty aisle somewhere."
TV Guide also creates special issues within its normal publication schedule, in addition to its SIPs. In fact, different special issues can appear in different regions throughout the country at the same time. One part of the country may have a Nashville music star on the cover, while another will feature Nascar racing. During football season, different football stars will appear on the cover, depending upon the region. Editorial copy will vary as well.
"This is happening more and more frequently for us," said Klaus Gunn, vice president of client services for TV Guide Distribution, Radnor, Pa. "With over 200 editions of TV Guide, we have some flexibility to tailor those regional editions. The key is to tying those issues into our brand recognition. We're bringing in more readership for incremental sales."
Sometimes, two different covers will appear in the same bundle and will appear on shelves next to one another.
"In that case, we're not looking to see what will sell better," he said. "We're just trying to draw more attention to the issue. If we do an X Files cover with [David Duchovny] on one and [Gillian Anderson] on the other, fans will pick up both copies."
TV Guide recently did an issue that featured four different wrestlers on four different covers. Another featured the Three Stooges on three different covers that, when put next to one another, created a complete scene.
"We're looking for additional sales from collectors," Gunn said. "TV Guide has done a good job marketing to collectors, covering subject matter that has more mass appeal to it, like the Simpsons," which also had four covers that, when put together, created one scene.
But TV Guide also goes outside of its normal publication schedule to create SIPs, which are based upon the timeliness of certain events. For example, it created SIPs for the last episode of Seinfeld, for Frank Sinatra, another for Princess Diana, and one for Star Trek.
Gunn said that the only problem with creating SIPs is that without traditional frequency, there can sometimes be space constraints. "There's not ordinarily a pocket designated for specials," he said.
Health addresses that issue by timing the release of its Beauty & Fitness SIP. "Since Health is on the newsstand for two months, if a retailer runs out of pockets, he can put the issue in the July/August issue placeholder when those issues run out," said Deans.
Pockets are no problem for Better Homes and Gardens, however. Some pockets are purchased, said Murray, but the monthly issues and SIPs generally sell so well that retailers are willing to provide as much space as necessary.
"You don't get space at the front end unless you're selling a lot of product," he said. "Supermarkets are always looking for high turnover rates, and that combined with our high cover price and margins means a good return on investment for retailers."
Better Homes and Gardens publications usually get the "top two or three tiers," he said, which are "eye level to capture impulse sales."
"Although supermarkets aren't selling goods and services, when people are working on a project it's top of mind," he said. "You're getting them in an impulse mood when they're thinking about decorating and gardening."
Murray said sales of the company's SIPs have grown 100% over the last decade. In fact, he notes that the entire magazine category grew to a $4.6 billion industry at retail, representing a 35% growth in retail volume during the '90s.
"We capture consumer trends in our SIPs," he said. "And you're seeing that in a lot of media outlets now. People are interested in specific types of content and information, whether it's on broadcast television, cable, or even the Internet. People are looking for very specific information, and new media is providing it. But we've been doing it for years."