NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Hearst Magazines is hiking paid circulation at Food Network Magazine from 400,000 now to 900,000 this fall and then 1.1 million next summer, a surge of 175%.
It's a striking increase during a terrible time for magazines, plenty of which were already cutting paid circulation before the recession, as the days when ad revenue easily covered huge circulation costs faded further into the past.
Rodale's Prevention magazine just chopped its paid-circulation guarantee by 500,000 copies, a reduction of 15%. That move followed rate-base cuts by titles ranging from Newsweek to Playboy, In Touch to TV Guide and Skiing to BusinessWeek.
When publishers do want to boost a title's paid circulation, they've still got plenty of levers to pull. They can, for example, offer discounts even deeper than usual, pump up newsstand distribution, send subscriptions to people who buy products in related areas, send more copies to public places or pay outside agents to round up subscribers.
Subscriptions actually edged upward 0.5% in the second half of last year, according to an Audit Bureau of Circulations analysis of the 535 titles that reported circulation to the bureau both then and a year earlier. Publishers also increased the copies they distribute around public places such as waiting rooms by 7%. But newsstand sales tanked 11%, dragging overall paid circulation down about 1%.
Opportunities for the marketing and media industries in an otherwise bleak year
Media buyers said they thought the Food Network Magazine, introduced as a newsstand-only test last October, was simply growing on demand from readers.
"In this case there seems to be more of an organic pull from readers, vs. the push from the publisher," said Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of print investment and activation at MediaVest Worldwide. "It's very exciting to see this type of trend in a marketplace that is experiencing circulation challenges."
The next test would be tracking readers' reaction to the ads, Ms. Steinberg said. "How does the consumer engage with the magazine? What are the actions taken as a result of their experience with an issue? And at what price?"
"But all indications are looking that we will see high levels of performance metrics," she added.
Beth Fidoten, senior VP-print account director at Initiative, said the recession may actually be favoring Hearst's latest launch. "Dining in is the recession's dining out," she said. "So the food area in terms of magazine categories is one of the better ones." The Food Network brand doesn't hurt either, she said.
News of the circulation increase, on the whole, was only positive, Ms. Fidoten said. "It's great to have some good news," she said.