USA Network Buys New Yorker's Entire Newsstand-and-iPad Special Issue

The iPad, Where Subscribers Get the Issue Free, Becomes Important Piece of the "Roadblock"

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The New Yorker's special 'Talk of the Town' issue
The New Yorker's special 'Talk of the Town' issue

The technique once known as a "roadblock" is quickly jumping to new avenues -- especially in print (or whatever that medium is becoming).

To stand out among the dozens of pleading commercials that consumers see every day, advertisers have often sought to dominate the particular media that they buy. On TV, that once meant commercials set to air at the same time across multiple TV networks. The technique has evolved in recent years to also include home pages of popular web portals, or, in a different spin on the idea, sponsoring a specific episode of a particular program. Putting the same idea into practice in print has typically meant buying up all the ad inventory in a single issue of a magazine or newspaper.

A case in point: In 2005, retailer Target snatched up all the pages in an issue of Conde Nast's New Yorker magazine and commissioned original artwork featuring its popular "bull's-eye" logo to fill each space.

But these days, even that bold move -- it was the first time in the magazine's 80-year history that it allowed a single sponsor to dominate the publication in such fashion -- is not enough.

Why? The New Yorker's readers aren't just consuming the title in print, but on the web and the iPad, too. So this time, when New Yorker publisher Lisa Hughes wanted to gain support for a special newsstand-only issue (which will also be available via iTunes for iPad users) centered on the New Yorker's popular "Talk of the Town" dispatches, she included the brand's other platforms in the deal. NBC Universal's USA cable outlet, eager to promote the launches of many of its summer shows, was interested.

USA is the sole advertiser in the "Talk of the Town" special issue, which goes on sale today for $5.99 on newsstands and $4.99 in the App Store. Subscribers won't receive a copy in the mail but can access it free on the iPad. The print issue will stay on newsstands until Aug. 22 with, of course, the same ads in place, but USA will be able to swap out ads online, where will feature certain "Talk of the Town" content this week, and on the iPad to keep current as different series launch. Ads on the iPad will also feature links that allow readers to get more information.

"It's hard to stand out in one page of a July book with hundreds of ads," said Alexandra Shapiro, USA's senior VP-brand marketing and digital. "I love these opportunities where you can have true ownership."

For USA, those moments are hard to come by . A jewel in NBC Universal's portfolio, thanks to its solid-performing programs like "Covert Affairs" and "Burn Notice," USA is nonetheless challenged in how it can advertise. Because it competes with most of the main broadcast networks, seeing an ad for a new USA series like "Suits" on ABC, CBS or Fox, would seem unlikely. Indeed, Time Warner 's HBO has long faced similar challenges, and instead focuses a good deal of its efforts to promote its series on break-the-mold print ads as well as guerrilla and digital marketing efforts.

At The New Yorker and other magazines, incorporating non-print extensions has become more crucial, particularly as a younger generation of readers and subscribers migrate to receiving content via mobile devices.

Branching out to the iPad is creating new ad roosts for magazines to sell. "These are early, early days of the tablet platform," said the New Yorker's Ms. Hughes, but advertisers are showing steady interest.

Besides, magazines have sold so many pieces of their print product to advertisers in recent years -- such as blank space in page corners (several titles to BMW in 2002) and the magazine spine (Conde Nast's Modern Bride to Target in 2004) -- that they have little left in their physical print properties to offer to marketers that would stun a readership now grown jaded by such ploys. (In 2006, Hearst even allowed an advertiser, Philips Electronics, to remove an element, subscription cards, in certain titles as part of a promotion.)

In the iPad venture, however, USA gets to do something less intrusive than sticking an ad in a place where a reader might not expect to see it. Yet its commercials will linger with readers for a greater-than-expected period of time. "Being able to have three months of shelf life is an unusual media buy," said Ms. Shapiro. "Typically it will be in one magazine and the next week it goes into the Dumpster."

In some ways, USA is taking a bit of a gamble on its ad purchase. Because the New Yorker issue is newsstand-only, the TV network isn't guaranteed to reach the bulk of the New Yorker's subscriber base. Ms. Shapiro suggested an affilation with the New Yorker across different content-distribution venues was more important in this case. "It's a harder model" to work out, she said, though she will examine the "Talk of the Town" issue's newsstand sell-through rate as well as downloads via iTunes.

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