Launched in 2002, ShermansTravel.com logged 3.24 million unique visitors in June of this year, making it No. 8 among all travel information websites in the world, nearly triple the unique viewers last year at this time, according to comScore. The magazine version launched with a fall issue in 2006, and it has yet to look back. And as the magazine goes into its third year in print, the company plans to increase both the circulation and frequency, to take effect in early 2009. The now-quarterly publication plans to increase to six issues a year and will raise circulation from 200,000 to 250,000.
'Smart luxury' formula
Founder Jim Sherman boils down the success of his niche outfit to a few simple tropes, chief of which is what he describes as a significant audience of travel enthusiasts, who, while they might not want to skimp, are no longer "pay-any-price travelers."
While the Sherman's Travel product might seem akin to services provided by Frommer's Budget Traveler or similar outfits targeting spendthrift consumers, Mr. Sherman is quick to describe his readership as one that wants to travel well without spending a fortune.
"They're still looking for a deal, but everyone wants a deal," he says of his audience. "Sherman's Travel readers are sophisticated, value-conscious shoppers. They're looking for smart luxury."
Online, Sherman's Travel boasts "increased expert content" like its city and country guides, in addition to aggregating "editor vetted" transportation and lodging promotions from more than 200 providers, including mainstream names such as Travelocity and Orbitz.
The company also has syndication partnerships with leading websites, including MSNBC.com, MSN.com, USAToday.com and Yahoo, and hosts advertising from a slew of domestic and international tourism boards, hotels like Radisson and Sheraton, credit companies like Capital One and airlines like JetBlue.
Speaking on what makes the Sherman's model alluring, Maureen Morgenthien, director-marketing for Radisson's Aruba and St. Thomas resorts, points to the combination of luxury and affordability projected in Sherman's Travel. "I think that everyone likes to travel well," she said. "It's just a good magazine with good content."
Ms. Morgenthien, who has run advertising with Sherman's for nearly as long as the magazine's existence, says she splits Radisson's presence about equally between the print and online iterations, and is pleased with what she describes as positive response rates. "It's been really good for us," she said. "I'm a happy advertiser."
Sherman's web and print products are both banking on what was one of the few bullish market sectors left -- the luxury sector. Other magazines have followed suit of late, including The New York Times' and The Wall Street Journal's glossy, high-end fashion mags, Niche Media's spate of two dozen city-specific titles, including a new rollout in Chicago, and news of Us Weekly's forthcoming high-end quarterly spinoff. Of course, with the cratering of major financial institutions, even the luxury market now seems likely to contract next year.
Confidence amid gloom
Asked why he thinks, of all things, luxury-oriented, travel-centric products seem to be staving off publishing's general malaise, Mr. Sherman puts his stock in what he hopes will prove to be a recession-proof habit.
"Travel will always be a part of people's behavior," he said. "In the long run, what we're going to see is a surge in travel. It's a good industry to be in."
"It's the tenderloin of trades," echoed Ernest J. Renzulli, Sherman's VP-publisher. "And we service that niche very well."
Mr. Renzulli makes note of the rare luxury he's afforded: a built-in subscription base, one in which he said 84% own a passport and nearly all surveyed have had higher-level education.
"We've got a unique circulation model," he said, detailing the public presence of the magazine, including real estate in 87 airport lounges. Sherman's Travel is only available at Barnes & Noble and Borders locations, and while Mr. Renzulli admitted they don't have "a huge footprint in single-copy sales," he maintained that the hybrid base is an invaluable asset to their operation.