Magazine A-List 2009

Magazine A-List: Five More Smart Moves

Not Every Ploy Has Yet Paid Off, but Here Are Some Titles Whose Efforts Are Worth Watching

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When Esquire published the magazine industry's first electronic-ink cover last October, featuring a little window that blinks to inform readers that "The 21st Century Begins Now," none less than the legendary Esquire cover artist George Lois called it "ridiculous" and a "silly gimmick." But you know how everyone says these days that you have to be willing to try? Let's act like we mean it and give Esquire its due. Maybe the e-ink cover didn't deliver completely on its promise, but it was something new on the newsstand. You could say the same for some of the other Esquire cover stunts of the last year, like the February cover's flap with an ad inside or the May issue's flip-book cover. While we're honoring Editor David Granger and his team for those experiments, though, we have to add that Esquire's equally impressive "regular" cover executions deserve plaudits of their own.


The eight-year separation between Wired magazine -- which has helped millions of readers better understand and leverage the digital revolution -- and its website was always a blight on the brand's very premise. But once Condé Nast bought the Wired site in 2006, the integration was fast and furiously successful. Where the site's previous owner, Lycos, had let ad revenue lag, the tag team of Wired and quickly righted ad sales. The site's estimated ad revenue was nearly $4.7 million in 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence. And the magazine and site do a great job complementing each other, with much of the site's content, including many well-read blogs, living there exclusively -- not serving as some mere flanker for the print product. Unique visitors are well below their November 2008 peak, but September 2009 uniques still surpass their count two years earlier by 59%, according to Compete.


As you may have noticed, not every honor on our A-List belongs to magazines reinventing the form. Saveur is one to watch precisely because of its laser-sharp focus on great print editorial, a focus that's been rewarded with 2009 acclaim. It's received a National Magazine Award for best single-topic issue (breakfast) plus two awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Ad pages for January through October increased 8.3%, according to the Media Industry Newsletter, as ad buys arrived from new advertisers such as Absolut, BMW, Fiji and Singapore Airlines. Single-copy sales edged up 4.3% to 41,020 in the first half, while subs held basically flat above 270,000, and the title cut public-place copies, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. But Saveur isn't just playing in print. Its editor in chief appeared as a weekly judge on Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" this summer and as a judge on Food Network's "Iron Chef" in March.


ESPN the Magazine has plenty of help from its corporate siblings at ESPN, with which it can, for example, sell incredibly rich, integrated ad programs, but we're not going to hold that against it. In fact that's one reason it's here. ESPN knows how to use all of its assets in the service of its marketing partners. ESPN the Magazine also put a paywall around its online content this summer. It didn't just demand a toll; it moved the magazine site into ESPN's existing gated community, ESPN Insider. Subsequent offers to renew magazine subscriptions for just $1 kicked up an understandable outcry around the industry, but the offers were meant to make sure print readers know that they now receive Insider membership with their magazine subscriptions. It's a bid to both make subscriptions more valuable to consumers and make the expensive digital operation more valuable to ESPN.


Runner's World
How do you prove your worth in a media business that has new challenges coming from every direction? Provide not just community but also utility. Runner's World, an example worth emulating, maintains an online training log that lets users record workout details, graph and analyze the data, and maybe most intriguingly, map favorite routes and find routes created by others. This year also introduced The RW Loop, a community site for running enthusiasts that allows visitors to create profiles and publish blogs, photos and videos. The Magazine Publishers of America's 2009 Digital Awards nominated Runner's World for enthusiast site of the year; the title's National Magazine Awards nominations comprised not just general excellence but also general excellence online and personal service online. All of this, of course, supports the core title, too; the site's ability to sell new print subscriptions shot up in the first half.

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