Sunday, October 28, 2007

Targeted Magazines Have Little Trouble Selling Ads

Targeted Magazines Have Little Trouble Selling Ads
(c) 2007, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

The Calderones of Longwood, Fla., are voracious readers whose literary diet includes daily newspapers, professional publications and lots of books. But one publication tops them all, though it arrives just six times a year.

"I read Lake Mary Life magazine from cover to cover every time an issue comes out," said Tina Calderone. "It seems to have a lot more to do with my family than all the national publications on the market."

Calderone said her husband and two teenagers also like the glossy community magazine that serves the area around Lake Mary, Fla., an Orlando suburb that was ranked No. 4 on Money magazine's top 100 places to live this year. And with hundreds of similarly targeted publications appearing across the country, the appeal of such local magazines is spreading.

Niche publications, particular those aimed at the affluent, are publishing's darlings du jour. They are proliferating at a time when mainstream newspapers and general-interest publications are struggling to retain readers.

Community publications packed with extremely local news, events calendars and photo layouts of neighborhood folk at play are popular with readers and advertisers. Many don't charge for their publications, though they are meticulous about isolating readers who are often among a region's most wealthy residents.

Local magazines aren't the only publications thriving in niches. Other publishers cater to hobbyists, collectors, travelers and sports enthusiasts who are wealthy and passionate about their interests. The appeal for advertisers is clear. Niche publishers generally know a lot about their typically well-heeled readers.

"There have always been publications for what you would call, rich people, said Martin Walker, chairman of Walker Communications, a New York magazine consulting company. "But they have become hot publishing items today because we now have a ton of people with a lot of money."

Oxbridge Communications, a publisher that tracks the magazine industry, reports that the number of U.S. periodicals that target the wealthy has seen the biggest percentage growth of any category the company tracks.

For decades, publishers tried to blanket markets with their products. Big circulation numbers used to impress advertisers, who bought space to reach armies of consumers.

That has changed. Small has become a virtue for a growing number of magazines that save money on production and distribution as they concentrate on the readers advertisers most want to reach.

"Every city now has lots of magazines full of pictures of socialites, and advertisers want to be associated with these people," Walker said. "Rich people and conspicuous consumption have been where it's at for the past few years."

These "controlled circulation" publications use everything from ZIP codes, housing-value data and income levels to select readers, who often receive copies at no cost and without asking.

Samir Husmi, a magazine expert who chairs the University of Mississippi journalism department, said it's all about money.

"We are seeing the print media moving from mass to class," Husmi said. "The market is being sliced up, and magazines are being born as business people dissect the marketplace. We no longer have unified readerships."

Orlando magazine, one of Central Florida's longest publishing magazines, has grown from an average of 80 pages a month seven years ago to 250 pages today. Society photos are a big draw, as are features that rank "best of" categories.

Editor Jim Clark said advertisers who want to reach the wealthy are interested in publications aimed at them.

"This is all about the growing affluence and the desire of people to target their audience," Clark said. "We can target our magazine to the people we want to reach: upscale readers who are older."

The mainstream has taken notice. Newspapers and mass-market magazine publishers have developed portfolios of specialty publications aimed at the demographics advertisers want to reach.

Bonnier Group, formerly World Publications, understands that. The Winter Park, Fla., magazine publisher now has about two dozen national titles that target specific interests. The company seeks to dominate its subject areas, which include water skiing, boating, gardening and gourmet dining.

"You have to sell an integrated package," said Dave Freygang, Bonnier's vice president of publishing. "That could be a combination of print, events and online. The days of selling just print pages are long gone."

Bonnier gives advertisers highly detailed information about its readers and invites them to sponsor special events created for target audiences.

Smaller publishers use a similar pitch but often lack the detailed research that a large company such as Bonnier provides. Instead, they tell advertisers where their readers live and how much the households in those areas earn.

Brian Remington, president of Connect Source, a Seminole County, Fla., home-theater systems vendor, said that works for him.

Regional newspapers and magazines don't focus narrowly enough on his customer, he said.

"We prefer not to chase business all around Central Florida," he said. "And we don't need to reach everybody. We target people with money. We're not carpet cleaners. We sell $80,000 theater and audio-video systems."

Lake Mary Life publisher Sheila Kramer says focused advertisers have built her business. Since she started her bimonthly magazine six years ago, it has grown from 24 pages to 164 pages in November's issue. Advertising makes up half the content.

Lake Mary Life and a sister publication, Oviedo-Winter Springs Life, don't go to everyone. In Lake Mary, only resident-owned homes get it. In other areas, only houses valued at more than $300,000 are on the list.

"We are going for a niche, which is our communities," Kramer said. "We write about our readers, and readers tell us what we have done is beautiful."

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