NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's always been about wealth and prestige for the magazine Worth, which has catered to the ultra-affluent since 1992. A casual flip through its most recent issue revealed, for example, the inside scoop on affordable art (starting at $50,000) and private aircraft (now's the best time to buy since 1990). But the magazine is about to be more exclusive than ever: Soon it will sport a $20 cover price -- unless you're on the magazine's elite addressee list.
Beginning this May, privately held Sandow Media Corp., which bought Worth from CurtCo. Media last year, will relaunch the bimonthly magazine with an overhauled design and new business model. A smaller, higher-quality version of the magazine -- with thicker-stock paper, more photography, and a matte finish -- will go out, for free, in a sealed envelope to 110,000 carefully selected high-net-worth individuals. The editorial team, led by former 02138 executive editor and George Magazine co-founder Richard Bradley, will remain largely intact.
"We wanted to completely change the look and feel of the magazine to cater to high-net-worth individuals," said Publisher Patrick Williams, who came to Worth from The Economist.
To qualify for the free magazine, a household has to have a minimum net worth of $2 million, have at least $1 million of equity in their main residence and live in one of 11 major markets, including New York, Boston and San Francisco. Using household data research and analysis from Acxiom Corp., Worth looked at roughly 550,000 eligible households -- about 50,000 in each of those major markets. The magazine then whittled down that list to 110,000 across the country, based on address exclusivity.
Current Worth subscribers who do not qualify will receive the magazine until their subscriptions expire but will not be able to renew, though they can shell out the $20 to pick it up on newsstands. (To Mr. Williams' knowledge, Worth will be the highest-priced book on newsstands. And he acknowledged that the price tag is more for publicity than anything else.)
More relevant than ever?
As bizarrely timed as the relaunch may feel in this economy, Worth sees its content as more relevant than ever, given that wealthy people are panicky about their investments in a shaky, post-Madoff world.
National advertisers pay between $12,000 and $20,000 an issue for a page, depending on the number of issues they wish to be in, and wealth advisers can sign up on an annual basis for nearly $30,000. Worth has partnered with Paladin Registry, an information-services company, to ensure that wealth advisers that advertise in the magazine are top performers. The advertorial section will be unique to each of the major markets, giving readers information on professionals in their regions.
"This is something no one has ever done before," Mr. Williams said, of the commercial relationship with wealth advisers. "We want to work with them so that it definitely works for them."
The magazine's commercial distribution will be limited. Sandow secured exclusivity in 150 of the top fixed-base operators that service private jets, where Worth will be available for free, along with other Sandow titles Luxe, NewBeauty and Watch Journal.
Skepticism from rivals
Rivals already aimed at the ultra-rich niche are (unsurprisingly) skeptical of the relaunch. Doug Gollan, president and editor in chief of Elite Traveler, criticized Sandow's complimentary distribution, especially in the private-airport areas. "I see this as the folly of somebody who didn't research the market properly."
Elite distributes 99% of its magazines on private jets, and Mr. Gollan said, "It took us two years to get the magazine at the right place at the right time before we even launched."
Barron's editor and president Edwin A. Finn Jr. said the luxury market has tried to focus its marketing dollars in these tough times, and given the strong credibility of Barron's among those with net worths that exceed $4 million, the market may be tough for Worth. Barron's publishes its own list of high-ranking financial advisers and recently released a new list.
Certainly Worth faces an uphill challenge. Its average paid-subscription circulation was only 31,024 in the last six months of 2008, down 57.1% from the same period in 2007, according to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations Fas-Fax report. By contrast, Barron's had an average paid-subscription circulation of 263,092, up 4.7% from 2007.
Worth's May issue will be followed by an October/November issue, giving the magazine time to respond to feedback from readers and the market. The plan is to resume a bimonthly publishing schedule following that fall issue and expand to 25 markets within two years.
The magazine's website, Worth.com, is slated to launch May 15, with select content behind a password-protected wall.