Spry, The New 9-Million (Newspaper Distributed) Health Magazine: Are They Out of Their Minds?September 7, 2008
On Thursday Sept. 11, Spry magazine launches with a record 9.2 million copies distributed via newspapers. Yes, you read that right, distributed via newspapers. If, for a moment, I ignore the fact that a new magazine is being launched this week with a circulation of 9.2 million (200,000 copies delivered as a bonus on the 9 million guaranteed base), I can’t but wonder about the fact that the magazine is going to be distributed via newspapers. Remember, newspapers, the medium that more people have predicted its demise than there are actually newspapers in this country. Well, I have said it before and I will say it again, newspapers are not dying in America, however, some of them are just committing suicide. It was ironic to see few days ago a report on the Cox news service (part of the Cox newspapers chain) talking about the flourishing status of the European newspapers. The sad/funny part about the report is that we publish it in our American newspapers but we do not bother to learn any lessons from it. We continue to chase the news and try to stay up-to-date on our pages, while we know at the same time that it is not possible to do so with ink on paper anymore.
Well, back to my original reason for this blog, publishing a mass circulating magazine using newspapers as the method of distribution. Spry, is of course not the first national magazine distributed via newspapers. In fact it is the third title from the same company Publishing Group of America (PGA). PGA publishes American Profile on a weekly basis, Relish on a monthly basis and now Spry.
I asked Dick Porter, PGA’s CEO what were they thinking to launch a new printed magazine to be distributed in a medium that some say is dying. Are you out of your mind? I said. His response:
“I say look at our circulation growth (in both American Profile and Relish). In every medium today (newspapers, televison, etc), it is painful and partly it is because of the impact of technology. Consumers can put stuff on the internet that is free with a digital camera that is pretty good. (However) I think there is always a premium for the best storytellers… In the newspaper channel, clearly there is pain. I had this question when I was in Chicago and was asked aren’t you in a channel that is dying. I said first of all, look at the capacity. There is at least three buckets to segment newspapers, metro dailies, which are probably hurt more today than non-metro weeklies, and then there are free newspapers. The free newspaper market is growing like crazy. We are not even in that market and maybe we should be. I think if you added up all the paid circulation of newspapers on a daily basis, the number is something like 60 to 70 million. (The 770 daily audited newspapers have a circulation of about 45 million). I don’t know the exact number. But if you figure 60 million a day times 365 days a year that is an awful lot of capacity. Even in a doom’s day scenario, pick your number if you think it is going to be halves in three years. As long as I am only trying to launch a twelve time frequency, there is a lot of capacity out there for us to have enormous magazines. I think the proof of that mass is pretty simple. Look at Relish. Two years ago people thought why would you launch a newspaper magazine? That is such a tough environment. We launched at six million and today it is twelve million and in January it will go to fifteen million. We are also looking at frequency growth there too. We think there might be room for a thirteenth issue. In the case of Spry, six million wasn’t good enough. We launched at nine and had to raise the bar for ourselves. Probably the newspaper industry is tougher in 2008 than it was in 2006. There is just not a lot of conventional magazines out there approaching three million circulation today.”
Needless to say PGA is not the only publishing company putting its faith in the newspaper industry and using newspapers as a good distribution system for their magazines. The Gannett newspaper chain is using USA Today to distribute their outdoor magazine Open Air and the Dow Jones company is using The Wall Street Journal to distribute WSJ. The aforementioned titles are but a few of newly launched national magazines to be distributed through the newspapers, thus hitting two birds with one stone. First, they avoid the entire distribution problem (the crowded newsstands and the expensive direct mail) and second the need to search for an audience, since the newspapers have their captive audience ready and willing to receive the new publications.
Spry, WSJ., Open Air, Relish and American Profile have been a welcomed addition to the national magazine scene in the last few years and a major vote of confidence in the future of mass circulation magazines. Creative ways of distribution show that a special interest magazine does not need to have a circulation of less than 100,000, but rather can reach 15-million circulation as in the case of the food magazine Relish.
I think our industry needs to take an in-depth look at the aforementioned magazines and the way they are able to buck the trends and the prophets of doom and gloom. The future of magazines in print is definitely not limited to special interest and coffee table magazines, but to creative, well done, content driven magazines such as Spry, WSJ. and Open Air. Three new national magazines born in 2008 providing three solid answers to anyone who questions the vitality of print and whether print is well, alive and kicking.