Taunton Press readies 'Inspired House' launch

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Taunton Press, the Newtown, Conn.-based publisher, will launch in October its highest profile project to date: Inspired House, a bimonthly shelter title with the first issue slated for October.

It's a sideways step for the company, which has leveraged a neat little business out of high-priced titles aimed at a hardcore how-to market, and has remained downright prickly about what ads it will accept. Its stable of six magazines includes the 308,000-circulation Fine Woodworking, as well as Fine Gardening and Fine Cooking; the company also produces related books and videos.

Inspired House, though, targets a reader with softer hands. "Hands-on in a more figurative sense," says Editor Marc Vassally, who says readers won't be doing "woodworking or homebuilding." Advertiser-aimed materials detail the target audience as "intellectually curious" women between 35 and 64.

"It's kind of extending what we've been most successful with in special-interest markets to a broader market," said Group Publisher Jon Miller.

It's also part of an ambitious multi-platform play. Next year, PBS is slated to air 13 episodes of a half-hour show titled "The Inspired House," Taunton's first foray into TV. The show's on-air host, John Connell, will also be a featured columnist in the magazine.

Mr. Miller sees the potential for Inspired House to become a monthly with a circulation of around 500,000, which would make it Taunton's biggest-circulation magazine.

Inspired House launches into a niche stuffed with competitors of every stripe. On the top end, there are Conde Nast Publications' Architectural Digest and House & Garden and Hearst Magazines' House Beautiful. For the do-it-yourselfer, there's Time4 Media's This Old House-an outgrowth of its own popular PBS series. In the middle is Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.'s Home and its urban sibling Metropolitan Home. For the young and design-savvy, there are indies Dwell and Nest; for the more traditional minded, there are Meredith Corp.'s powerhouse Better Homes & Gardens, as well as Hearst's Country Living. And Time Inc. has flirted with a new shelter project this year.

One media buyer, though, didn't feel the category was too crowded. "We need them," said Eric Blankfein, VP-director of planning for Horizon Media, New York. "It's the only category that's booming," he added.

Mr. Miller also claims to be unfazed by the competition. Inspired House will be "Taunton's take on a shelter magazine," he said. "The only one out there that is going to provide a level of ideas, concepts and information people can use to make choices."

Other shelter books, he said, are heavy on "voyeurism, pictures, and good ideas-they don't give you practical information and practical ideas." (Though some rivals are firmly positioned in the service camp, such as This Old House and Better Homes.)

What Taunton likely brings to the table is a database of motivated buyers-which is to say those willing to plunk down $7.99 for a copy of Fine Homebuilding or Fine Woodworking.

The latter point will likely make Inspired House a closely watched launch. Many top publishing houses have wrung hands over the need to wring more profits from circulation. Hachette took steps in that direction last year by raising cover prices at three titles.

Different model

But Taunton's model is sharply different from the big consumer companies. Mr. Miller said the company generated only around 30% of its total magazine revenues from advertisers, compared to 60% at the largest magazine players.

And key magazine real estate, like the back cover, is off-limits to advertisers. Taunton's attempt to keep all magazine content relevant to readers approaches the obsessive. Mr. Miller tells of a Ford Motor Co. van ad in 1986 that ran in one title and touched off a fierce internal debate: While handymen readers of Taunton titles used vans, the people pictured in the ad were delivering flowers. Taunton decided against running the ad more than once; an exasperated Ford left, before returning after about two-years. (A Ford spokesperson had no comment at press time.)

At launch, Inspired House will distribute 150,000 copies. A one-time full-page color ad is $12,090. Mr. Miller said charter advertisers in the magazine will get a 20% discount. As of press time, he said no ad deals had been finalized.

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