'Week' links up with biz think tank

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Dennis Publishing's struggling news digest The Week is joining with business-world think tank the Conference Board in an unusual subscription partnership to boost its current circulation.

The Week, which launched in 2001, remains unprofitable, and Dennis Publishing Chairman Felix Dennis conceded it will burn between $40 million and $45 million before turning a profit. This is, he said, around $13 million more than he anticipated, and to reach profitability would take longer than the four years and three months he'd once reckoned.

"But hey," he cracked, "what's $13 million between buddies?"

REACHING INFLUENCERS

The circulation deal is designed to increase ad sales by tapping into an important audience of wealthy influencers, but with overstatement scandals littering the print world right now, it remains to be seen whether advertisers will accept, and pay for, subscribers that don't specifically buy the magazine. Media buyers have sometimes looked askance at such circulation, but The Week's management is hoping the senior-executive demographic found among Conference Board denizens will prove attractive enough to overcome such concerns.

Beginning in November, the approximately 25,000 members of the Conference Board will begin receiving The Week as part of their membership perks. This will provide a significant boost to The Week's circulation, which was at just 178,000 according to its first Audit Bureau of Circulations report for the last three months of 2003. The Week will also cross-sell packages with the Conference Board's in-house organ "Across The Board," and continue an extant event series begun with the business-resource group earlier this year.

The Week has long marketed itself in off-center ways by magazine standards. The Week has peppered the mailboxes of those at the nexus of business, celebrity, and intellect-think Harvey Weinstein, David Halberstam, and Woody Allen-in hopes of cadging blurbs that appear on each issue's cover. (All three did provide quotes.) It's sponsored a series of smart-set chin-stroking sessions over lunches in Manhattan moderated by former Times of London editor Harold Evans.

The Week, a project fiercely beloved by Mr. Dennis, launched with plans to limit ad pages to six per issue. That's since changed. Group Publisher Carolyn Kremins said the title now aims to keep ads below 30% of its pages, or about 12 to 14 pages a week.

sticking point

Mr. Dennis said that one sticking point for The Week's march to profits was consumer's resistance to high subscription prices. "We can charge huge sums of money in the U.K."-where The Week originated-"and we cannot in the U.S." (The Week's suggested subscription price is $75. The Audit Bureau has yet to determine its actual average price, which reflects the discounts most, if not all, magazine subscribers pay.)

Nevertheless, The Week's circulation strategy is decidedly aggressive, especially in light of its previously audited numbers. The current rate base is 200,000, and Mr. Dennis touted a rise in `05 to 300,000.

Ms. Kremins conceded that The Week's Conference Board-related subscriptions were "discounted," though she declined to name any other specifics. Through her assistant, she said the subscriptions would count as paid circulation under Audit Bureau rules on "sponsored sales."

These sales are broken out in a separate area on circulation statements, and cover subscriptions defined as copies in which the magazine "makes a donation in return for and in proportion to the circulation so obtained" from "an organized charity or other organization." In order to count as paid circulation, such sales have to be at least 25% of the basic subscription price.

Such circulation has been controversial among media buyers, some of whom express concerns over whether readers who get sent magazines this way hit a standard of "wantedness"-if they truly want titles they receive by joining a club or affinity group. Publishers argue, however, that these arrangements allow titles to reach an audience predisposed to the editorial, and give the advertisers the chance to expose their ads not only to more consumers, but more qualified consumers.

"The question you have any time publications do `bulk' [subscriptions sales] is the involvement that the respondent has with the publication," said Steve Greenberger, senior VP-director of print, Zenith Media, New York. But he credited The Week with trying out a new approach, and concluded "This is all right by me."

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