Magazine A-List 2009

National Geographic Is No. 10 on Ad Age's Magazine A-List

121-Year-Old Publisher Proves It Can Learn Plenty of New Media Tricks

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- One can count on a single hand the media brands that started as magazines but have since expanded far beyond the confines of print. Certainly, one of those digits would have to represent National Geographic. It's hard to imagine a media brand, in fact, that's created a deeper presence on a truly global scale.

A venerable media brand recognizes its deep trove of information can be spread across a dizzying display of platforms.
Claudia O'Malley
Chris Johns
Online, National Geographic boasts 14.8 million unique visitors per month. Its TV channels reach 290 million homes in 164 countries. Its branded books are distributed in 47 countries and translated into 32 languages. Its 2,500-plus licensed products are sold in 5,000 retail outlets. (While stopping short of sharing numbers, the company calls its licensed products "highly profitable.") This year, National Geographic opened up its archive of more than 10 million iconic photographs, making some of them available for purchase and creating a series of exhibitions. The company also sponsors live events and travel expeditions and has produced filmed entertainment, mobile products and games -- and along the way, it has built up a consumer database of a mind-boggling 82 million names.

And National Geographic has created one of the most robust social-media communities of any "old media" player: upwards of 550,000 Facebook fans, more than 20,000 Twitter followers and more than 190,000 YouTube subscribers.

"We've always thought of ourselves as a sort of social-media entity, from when we started as a membership-based organization," said Tim Kelly, president-CEO of the global media group. "Our founders said if you stay focused on what the mission is in terms of exploration and conservation and bringing the wonders of the planet to people, it's contagious. ... It creates an internal passion and an external following."

1. Women's Health
2. Better Homes & Gardens
3. Family Circle
4. The Economist
5. People
6. Essence
7. The Week
8. Backpacker
9. Cosmopolitan
10. National Geographic
And at a time when publishers are (correctly) fixated on expanding their brands across a range of platforms, it says something that National Geographic remains one of the most-substantial print vehicles around (and one that's been around since 1888), with a paid circulation that still approaches 4.5 million -- even as it has raised its newsstand price and maintained its rate base while shedding verified copies by 19%. And at a time when other magazines have had to shelve spinoffs, it continues to publish National Geographic Adventure and National Geographic Traveler. Calling the ambitious expansion of the stable "a promise kept," Editor in Chief Chris Johns said of the magazine in particular: "We believe strongly that even in this challenging environment, every issue needs to be better than the previous issue. ... We're tough on ourselves."

The brand's Earth-centered focus has nicely dovetailed with the explosion in green ad messages. National Geographic boasts a number of innovative programs with marketers such as Shell Oil, Frito-Lay and Royal Bank of Canada. "We have to not be defensive about the medium but to talk about its real benefits," said Claudia Malley, VP-U.S. publisher. "The content of these magazines is out of this world, and people will pay for it."

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