THE BEST MAGAZINES: KEY AD CATEGORY GAINS HELP 'EW' TURN A PROFIT GIVING READERS AND ADVERTISERS WHAT THEY WANT, BOOK PROSPERS

By Published on .

Most Popular
Plato once said, "What is honored in a country will be cultivated there."

So it's no surprise magazine readers and advertisers in America have taken to Entertainment Weekly,a magazine that chronicles the TV shows, movies, books and videos that titillate people ages 18 to 44.

Celebrating its seventh anniversary this month-and despite enduring some harrowing times upon its debut-the Time Inc. title is widely regarded as the first successful mass-market weekly since People in the 1970s.

COMPARED WITH TITANIC

According to sources close to the magazine, the six-year road to profitability, culminating in its first full year of profit in 1996, cost its parent company roughly $120 million. That's a debilitating amount for most companies, but not for Time Inc.

For a magazine many predicted would never recover from a launch similar to the Titanic's maiden voyage, EW continues to excel. Its quick recovery made EW Advertising Age's Best Magazine of 1991. Now, a breakout '96 have earned it distinction as an Ad Age Best Magazine of 1996.

Ranked No. 3 by Capell's Circulation Report's Best Performers in 1996, average paid circulation increased 6% for the period ending for the six months ending Dec. 31, to 1,275,625. Ad pages grew 18.8% to 1,847 last year.

Making these achievements more laudable are the problems the title faced in its infancy.

UGLY AT LAUNCH

"When it initially launched," recalls Roberta Garfinkle, senior VP-director of print media at McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, "it was one of the ugliest magazines I've ever seen."

Ms. Garfinkle believes the weekly still has some growth left before it hits its ceiling. She says staying on the magazine "hot list" is no small achievement, especially when you consider "just how far behind the eight-ball that magazine started out."

"We definitely got off to a slow start," concedes Michael Klingensmith, president of EW, who's been with the title since its debut.

FIRST PROFITABLE YEAR

Yet Mr. Klingensmith confirmed that last year the weekly turned its first full year of profit. Hitting the black at just seven years of age, he adds, is slightly sooner than the average at Time Inc.

"What's notable about our success is that launching a weekly costs just about four times as much as [launching] a monthly," Mr. Klingensmith says. And though executives originally forecasted profitability by 1995, Mr. Klingensmith says he's very pleased with the magazine's history and performance through its past, and remains optimistic about continued successes.

"We keep getting better with practice," he says.

Some of the magazine's abundance has to do with being in the right place at the right time. With the increased interest in the Internet, satellite TV, compact discs and home computers, among other technologies, the time seemed right for someone to corral these media and present the package as forms of entertainment.

"[EW executives] took the concept of People magazine and extended it every which way," says Martin Walker of consultancy Walker Communications. "The problem they had at the start was validating the concept, and that's certainly has happened."

SEEN AS CONSISTENT

Peter Stabler, associate media director at Hal Riney & Partners in San Francisco, notes the consistency of the magazine as one of its strongest features.

"There seems to be a real consistency in [EW's] formula," he says. "They were a bit rocky in the beginning but it seems now they've got it right."

According to Publisher Michael Kelly, a lot of categories of advertisers came EW's way in 1996.

"There have been so many products released in the last 18 months directed at people 18-to-44 years old," says Mr. Kelly.

Automotive advertising was up 36% last year to 308 pages, and apparel and footwear was up 41% to 125 pages. Publishing/media also jumped 34% in pages, according to the publisher, to 285 pages.

"Look at how marketers are all using entertainment or entertainment figures to connect with pop culture," observes Mr. Kelly. "Pop culture's never had a bigger influence, and we have the magazine with size, scale, consistency, and authority on that topic."

"We see them as the strongest in their field. It's a dual audience book, and I like the immediacy of a weekly," says Michael McCadden, VP-marketing at The Gap.

While the numbers may make board members beam, EW's business executives point to Editor Jim Seymore's touch with the content as the real silver bullet of the weekly.

"Jim knows what readers react to," says Mr. Klingensmith, "so the magazine's editorial gets better every year."

OBSESSED WITH ENTERTAINMENT

"We have tapped into the American psyche in a significant way, and the culture's obsession with entertainment," says Mr. Seymore, who credits a "brilliant" staff of journalists. "We take it seriously, but not too seriously."

Among the noteworthy editorial achievements Mr. Seymore cited from last year was an issue devoted to gay TV. Also within that issue was a story entitled "Who killed the American Screenplay?"-a story in which "a serious subject [was] treated with humor and style."

Mr. Seymore adds that EW last month conducted its first reader focus group in four years to get feedback on some planned changes at the weekly.

"We'll be updating the look of the magazine, pretty much through the book," says the editor.

LEVERAGING NAME A PRIORITY

Leveraging the franchise will take top billing in 1997.

In the spring, executives say they will unveil a new Web site on the Internet for magazine subscribers at http://ew.com. Michael Small, a former editor at HotWired, will serve as editor.

"This will go a lot further than the magazine," says Mr. Klingensmith, adding that aside from theater information and bulletin boards, the Web site will handle circulation business such as renewals and address changes.

As a nod to the importance of the college crowd to the title's readership, EW executives plan to unveil a new quarterly spinoff.

In May, says Mr. Klingensmith, the magazine will launch Entertainment Weekly on Campus, under the direction of EW Senior Editor Doug Brod. The digest-sized title, which Mr. Klingensmith says will feature original editorial material focusing more on music, movies and video, will be inserted into college newspapers nationwide.

CIRCULATION IN MILLIONS

Distribution details haven't been finalized for the supplement, but the total circulation should be well into the millions at the "largest and best universities in the country," Mr. Klingensmith says.

Executives at EW say Gap already committed to take the most pages for the first three issues of the supplement but declined to state how many pages.

Whether or not EW has peaked remains to be seen. But as today's entertainment-hungry teens grow into their early 20s, it's fair to say they will help sustain EW's readership.

"There's an increasing number of movies, videos and multimedia coming into play," says Mr. Kelly. "And there's never been more competition to find the eyes

In this article: