American Society of Magazine Editors

How Editors Move the Needle at Retail

By Karlene Lukovitz, IPDA Daily Publishing & Retail News

How do editors position their magazine brands’ content and design to meet the needs of their core audiences in print and other platforms–including driving retail single-copy sales?

The chief editorial executives of PreventionForbesFood Network Magazine and All You shared their methods and philosophies during a Retail Marketplace 2013 panel moderated by Michael P. Duloc, president and CEO of Kable Media Services, Inc.

The panel discussion fell into two main parts, starting with how the editors  serve their primary, print-audience readers/customers in tandem with employing digital tools/offerings to serve and draw new brand fans; and moving onto more retail/single-copy-specific sales-driving strategies.

Serving Brand/Audience Needs Across Platforms
Rodale’s Prevention has 9 million magazine readers, 7 million branded Web site users and  growing social media communities, reported SVP, editorial director Anne Alexander. The brand’s core readers are people in their 40′s to 60′s (about 75% are women) who want to live a healthier life. Alexander and her team employ consumer data and feedback from a wide variety of sources to better understand and serve the reader, including the brand’s Web site, surveys, subscription cards and social media.

Because of the importance of providing this multi-sourced information on an ongoing basis to all who need to use it for directional/strategic purposes–the full editorial team, plus the marketing and advertising teams–Prevention is now creating a dashboard to enable streamlined access, Alexander reported.

Food Network Magazine launched in partnership with the Food Network (starting with a test issue in October 2008), began with the advantage of “an already intimate relationship with the consumer” [the cable TV network's viewers]; the editorial team’s challenge was to “deliver on” the brand fans’ existing expectations by capturing its essence in a magazine, noted editor-in-chief Maile Carpenter.

Nearly five years old now, the magazine continues to receive an impressive 800 to 1,000 reader letters per month, and also gleans insights from and engages with consumers across many platforms and methods on an ongoing basis–including sometimes seeking informal, spontaneous “man/woman on the street” opinions on a cover or other aspect of the magazine, Carpenter noted.

Due to its mission as “the scorekeeper of capitalism” (for 97 years and counting), Forbes‘s core audience does tend to skew to a somewhat older and male demographic; however, the average reader age has gone down in the past two years, and the readership is defined more by psychographics than by demographics, said Forbes editor Randall Lane.

Lane stressed that Forbes‘s editorial focus is on providing leadership, rather than “following” the audience. And the brand is seeing reader/user growth across all media platforms, including the print magazine, because it creates distinct, platform- and audience-specific experiences and content for each, rather than taking a blurred or “one size fits all” approach in which the same content is offered on the Web and in print. “We have very distinct ideas about [the nature of] every single product we do–whether it’s digital, print, live events–and each one has to be as great as it can be,” he said. With print, for instance, Forbes focuses on what makes a great magazine or “making the magazine ‘magazine-ier,’” rather than reflexively repurposing content that’s working on the Web for the magazine.

All You has succeeded in a crowded marketplace because it launched with a distinct identity: Serving budget-minded women seeking value in the shopping experience and use of their time, said Clare McHugh, group editor of All You and Health for Time Inc. Because that mindset is the key definer of its readers, All You‘s readers include many young moms looking to stretch their family budgets, so overall readership tends to be somewhat younger than readers of traditional women’s service titles, she said.

All You offers digital daily updates on deals at retailers or online, with the magazine offering a “deeper dive” into a savings lifestyle, McHugh said. The magazine conducts a lot of traditional consumer research, but she also relies heavily on feedback through various social media platforms, because the immediacy of that feedback “makes the research that we do and the information that we’re garnering that much fresher and that much more useful,” she noted.

Kable’s Duloc noted that, contrary to some assumptions, Gfk RMI research shows that print magazine readership levels among younger generations are actually somewhat higher than the 91% of all U.S. adults who read print magazines [see "MPA CEO Sees 'Enormous' Opportunities at Retail"]. Looking forward however, he asked the editors their thoughts on how magazines as a whole can continue to attract and serve younger readers.

McHugh said that having a strong brand proposition is primary, but having a robust Web site and social media presence, and offering digital versions of the magazine, are also important. Digital channels and offerings attract new young readers, and magazines continue to find the most effective methods for converting as many of these digitally-recruited brand fans as possible to readers/buyers of the print version, she noted.

“To me, print’s a strength,” observed Lane. Forbes is finding that younger people who grown up as digital natives, with access to endless, free information, highly value the editorial curation and permanence offered by the print magazine, he said.

For example, when Forbes launched a new editorial franchise, “30 Under 30,” it generated huge amounts of buzz and sharing on Twitter, but that was driven by the “coolness” of the fact that the “young disruptors, innovators and entrepreneurs” on the list, who are heroes to young people in particular, were being featured in the new print issue of Forbes–an issue that generated very strong single-copy sales, he said.

For Food Network Magazine, “Print is the mother ship, and it always will be,” said Carpenter. “All decisions come back to the print product. That’s what the consumer loves, that’s what they want us to deliver every month…So when we think about what works digitally, a lot of the time it’s driven by what works best in print–although we also make sure that we have a very distinct product in print” that offers a different experience than those offered online or on the cable network, she said.

“We’re finding that our digital sales are incremental to our print sales,” Carpenter added. “Our sales are growing in print and digitally at the same time. They’re reading in print, and then they’re saying ‘I also want it digitally when I’m in the market and I need my grocery list with me, or I want to cook with it on the counter.’” In short, digital versions aren’t cutting into or cannibalizing print single-copy or subscription sales, she summed up.

The need to continually attract new readers is a given for any magazine, including a long-lived, iconic brand like Prevention, noted Alexander. But for Prevention, today’s challenges involve ensuring that the brand is serving the needs of today’s aging Baby Boomers–who are far healthier and more dedicated and knowledgeable about health and nutrition than any previous generation–in distinct, useful formats within each of its many platforms.

For instance, to respond to Boomers’ desire to stay up-to-date on all information relating to staying healthy as their bodies age, Prevention is publishing daily content updates on its site, she said. On Pinterest, the focus is offering inspiration and ideas for cooking and other topics; on Facebook, the focus is enhancing the social/community and news experience; and the magazine is dedicated to offering “meatier” articles on a health topic or a “good read” that readers want to sit back and “indulge in,” Alexander explained.

She added that Prevention is also keenly aware of serving the needs of the “aging Millennial.” In strategizing about the brand’s recently implemented “reinvention” and how to position itself for ongoing growth, the team extensively analyzed what Prevention needs to deliver in order to be relevant to both Boomers and the large audience of Millennials is “that’s coming our way,” she said.

For example: Instead of featuring celebrities on the covers of every issue, Prevention is now doing that more judiciously, instead tapping into reader hot spots with cover subjects like food (readers were “very responsive” to a recent cover featuring a strawberry smoothie, for example), she noted. It “took courage” to act on the insight that celebrities aren’t always the best, most relevant or compelling draw for Prevention readers, but the risk is paying off, she reported.

Specific Strategies for Driving Retail Sales
Asked what types of in-store displays or placement tends to work for their specific magazines, McHugh noted that while “nothing beats the checkout,” All You has seen success when it’s been featured in back-to-school and crafts supplies sections, and in some food aisles, as well as on the mainline.

Lane pointed out that Forbes has seen single-copy sales increases in the last three six-month periods, despite having increased its average cover price and reduced its overall retail distribution/draw numbers.

One driver of these retail sales gains: Reflecting its status as an iconic, highly influential magazine brand, Forbes has, over the past three years or so, consciously employed a consistent cover format that reflects this, showing a compelling, high-quality photograph of one of today’s most successful entrepreneurs or other business leaders in a simple, clean overall cover design. “Put us anywhere where you can see [the magazine], and we will sell,” Lane said.

Food Network Magazine‘s Carpenter said that her personal “plea” to retailers would be to “put us in the produce section.”

“We have more than 100 recipes per month, and almost every one of those calls for some form of produce, so if we were in the produce department, retailers would not only sell more magazines, but would likely sell produce products that people would not otherwise have purchased,” she said.

She added that a big part of Food Network Magazine‘s editorial strategy is “surprising” the reader — a strategy reflected by, for example, publishing issues devoted to or focusing on specific food types or categories, with unexpected/novel cover images conveying those focuses.

For example, the March 2013 “all-cheese” issue had about a 24% increase in single-copy sales over 2012′s March issue, and another issue that featured cinnamon rolls on the cover hit a hot spot, driving a 20% increase in single-copy sales over the same issue the previous year, she said. An occasional novel design treatment can also drive retail sales increases: After using a white cover background for about five years, December 2012′s cover, using a red background, drove a 25% retail sales increase over the previous December issue.

Consumers are bombarded with “an endless sea” of accessible information, but if they see a compelling cover from a trustworthy magazine brand as they’re shopping in the produce department or another synergistic area of a store, they “stop for a second because they’re seeing something new,” she noted.

Prevention is seeing success in being featured in special racks in various, relevant store departments and hopes to expand that exposure, said Alexander. Like Food Network MagazinePrevention believes that it can boost both magazine and other product sales in grocery stores by being featured in produce and other closely-related departments.

The trends that are really “popping” with Prevention‘s readers include natural, local, organic, whole grains, soy and gluten, and Prevention is all about helping consumers overcome cost and preparation barriers and find new, inexpensive ways to prepare tasty, healthy recipes, said Alexander. In addition, Prevention recognizes that people increasingly want to find non-prescription remedies for various common ailments, and it sees retail sales lifts by strategically focusing its content/cover subjects on topics of seasonal importance, like natural remedies for allergies, she said.

A partnership with Kroger this past February for National Heart-Health Month, in which Prevention promoted Kroger’s offer of free in-store blood-pressure screenings and other heart-health information in the print magazine and its online extensions, was a “great win/win,” because it helped Kroger drive store traffic, while enabling Prevention to drive brand awareness and sales by offering free, value-added information, Alexander said. “That’s just the start” of the kind of partnerships and placement opportunities possible between magazine brands and retailers to drive mutually beneficial results, she added.

As an extension of the cable TV network, Food Network Magazine has been able since launch to use digital channels to promote each of its new print issues as it arrives in retail stores to the network’s millions of consumer opt-in contacts, in order to drive single-copy sales both among consumers who are aware of the magazine and among those who are not yet aware of it.

“On the back end, I also use digital assets to get a read on what consumers want: We can look at recipe search terms on and see on any given day what foods are front-of-mind, and we look at those charts obsessively to think about what to put on our covers,”  she reported.

Digital and other consumer input has also helped inspire “mini mags” targeted to kids, men and other specific reader segments or topics that have been packaged with regular issues of Food Network Magazine to add value and drive magazine sales, Alexander said.

McHugh reported that All You has successfully expanded into publishing special issues — there will be five in 2013, in addition to its 12 regular monthly issues. While noting that the decision to publish a special issue is complex — such issues require advertiser as well as consumer support — she said that any issue that can promote added value does tend to boost single-copy sales.

Reiterating the reality that print is now viewed as a premium, value-added product in a world where free information is ubiquitous, Lance said that Forbes treats every print issue as a “special” issue, because there is a direct correlation between the brand’s growth on its Web site and its retail single-copy sales.

In fact, Forbes is finding that the more content from the magazine that it allows its Web site readers to access free, with no paywalls, the more that boosts retail sales of its print edition, he said. “How do we harness digital? We let it all out there, so that when people see our brand at retail, they don’t think, ‘Well, I’ve already read a couple of those stories,’ they think, ‘Forbes puts out good stuff, I see it [online] all the time, and I’ve got a plane trip coming up’ — so the magazine goes right in their bag.”

Recent Innovations
Asked to name recent or upcoming notable innovations, Alexander again noted Prevention‘s recent brand “reinvention” and reinvigoration (which has doubled its Web traffic in the last couple of months). The big opportunities going forward are in expanding engagement with consumers through various live events, particularly through partnerships with retailers, she said.

“Retailers can do something on a regular, daily basis that we can’t do, which is having an actual, physical relationship with the consumer,” and providing the highly motivated, health-conscious Prevention reader with more retail experiences in which she can sample foods and have live, health-related experiences will benefit both the magazine and retail partners, she believes.

Food Network Magazine innovated out of the gate by using covers that show food in more realistic, versus the traditional, idealized, photo-shopped images, against white backgrounds that enabled the viewer/reader to envision the foods in their own homes, said Carpenter.

In addition, it innovated a few years ago by creating single-topic themed issues, starting with an Italian issue for March, followed by a chocolate issue, then a cheese issue — all of which have generated spikes in single-copy sales each year, she pointed out.

Lane said that Forbes has followed a “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or KISS model, re-architecting or reinventing its Web site, as well as enhancing the print magazine by investing in better paper and photography. Forbes waited until three months ago to debut an iPad edition, learning from other magazines’ products in order to launch an app that was sophisticated and notable enough that Apple featured its app on the front of its Web site as an “editors’ choice,” he said. “We don’t think that that will cannibalize our print edition sales–we think that, as with other digital offerings, it will heighten demand for the print magazine,” he added.

All You has been heightening the social profile of the magazine by enabling and encouraging the brand’s fans themselves to share their stories and tips, as opposed to focusing mainly on providing such information from the magazine’s editors — and that’s been very successful, said McHugh.