K-III'S 'SOAP OPERA DIGEST' MOVING TO WEEKLY FORMAT: MARKET LEADER IN LUCRATIVE FIELD FACES CHALLENGE FROM TWO NEW MAGAZINES

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K-III Magazine Corp., seeking to protect its prized cash cow, will double Soap Opera Digest's frequency to weekly at the end of March.

The decision was prompted by the planned launch of two other digest-size weeklies into the lucrative market. Bauer Publishing Co.-parent of every-other-weekly Soap Opera Update-distributed the first issue of Soaps in Depth last week. American Media-publisher of National Enquirer, Star and weekly Soap Opera Magazine-will introduce Soap Opera News later this month.

K-III also will upgrade its second soap book, Soap Opera Weekly, and will spend more to promote and market both titles.

With an estimated $25 million in profits and a circulation of nearly 1.5 million, Soap Opera Digest is the clear leader in its category and one of K-III's most lucrative magazines.

FRESHER PRODUCT

"We're the leader in the market and this gives us a fresher product out there for the second week," said K-III President-CEO Harry McQuillen, who admitted the move to a weekly frequency was prompted by the competition. "It also gives us a chance to sell more advertising."

Soap Opera Digest has no plans to lower its cover price, now at $2.99, although it is testing lower prices in some markets. Bauer's Soaps in Depth, which launched as an every-other-weekly but will move to a weekly frequency in June, also sells for $2.99.

With the increase in frequency, Mr. McQuillen said Soap Opera Digest will see a decline in circulation, but he wouldn't discuss how sharp that drop might be. The circulation of other category titles ranges from 300,000 to 500,000.

Soap Opera News will initially have a circulation of about 200,000, said Senior VP-Publisher Tony Hoyt. Bauer President Hubert Boehle wouldn't discuss the circulation goals for Soaps in Depth.

CIRCULATION DRIVEN

Most of the magazines in the soap field are circulation-driven and carry little advertising. Soap Opera Digest, however, has been making significant gains on the ad front. It carried 827 ad pages last year, according to Publishers Information Bureau, a 21% increase over 1995.

Each of the new magazines is trying to carve a fresh editorial identity. Soaps in Depth, for example, will focus on only one network's soap operas in each issue. Soap Opera Digest focuses on the shows, while Soap Opera Weekly covers the stars and behind-the-scenes news.

"There is a market for a weekly with a different approach," said Mr. Boehle. "There are a lot of soap fans now who don't read any soap magazines."

Mr. McQuillen doesn't believe the category can support six magazines. "A year or

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