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  Magazine Brands: A Niche for Success   Magazine Brands: A Niche for Success  Barry Silverstein  
Magazine Brands: A Niche for Success Niche magazines—magazines that target highly specialized interests—have increased in popularity in recent years. They can be a demographer’s dream, because once a niche magazine builds up its subscriber base, that audience becomes a valuable, targetable list of names in a specific vertical market. As a result, product marketers who want to sell to that audience segment can not only advertise in the magazine, they can also rent the magazine’s subscriber list for direct marketing campaigns.

Successful niche magazines are brand machines. They start with a distinct magazine name, embodied in the masthead. The typeface and page design support the look and feel of the brand, whether in print or online. Some niche magazines push their brand much further. They create online stores with their brand logo, produce products and informational spin-offs, and hold magazine-sponsored seminars, conferences and trade shows.

Ad spending in magazines worldwide grew 2.7 percent in 2007 and is expected to grow 3.7 percent per year through 2010, according to Media Life magazine. India and China account for much of that growth. Ad spending in Chinese magazines more than doubled between 2001 and 2006.

There is also good news for magazines when it comes to their influence on buying decisions. A study conducted by Deloitte indicated that magazines were second only to television in having the most impact on the buying decisions of Internet users in the US and the UK. In Germany, magazines were the third most influential medium behind TV and online ads. Magazines were fifth behind TV, online ads, newspaper and radio in Japan (, Jan. 21, 2009).

It is primarily niche magazines that drive the growth of magazine brands. In the United States, for example, the top two magazines in circulation growth were Men’s Health and Women’s Health, according to Capell's Circulation Report’s 26th annual “Best Performers in Circulation” list for 2008, as reported in Folio magazine (the niche magazine of the magazine industry). Other niche magazines in the top ten included the business magazine Fast Company, the cooking magazine Every Day with Rachel Ray, the home magazine House Beautiful and the woman’s magazine Elle.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable about niche magazine brands is their ability to serve extremely narrow audiences and still survive. Niche magazines offer intimate, focused and thoroughly vetted brands because—via specialized content, design and brand promise—they appeal to the specific values of limited segments of people. This sense of exclusivity creates a tight bond—more so than with larger, more generalized magazine brands. In fact, the Publishers Information Bureau indicated a nearly 12 percent decline in US magazine ad pages in 2008—but niche magazines such as Organic Gardening and Technology Review had ad page increases of more than 25 percent each.

One of the strongest niche magazine markets is the regionals—those magazines that target a specific city or region. One of the long-time survivors, New York magazine, began publishing as a weekly in 1968 and today boasts 1.6 million weekly readers. At the 2007 National Magazine Awards, New York won five awards, including one for general excellence in its circulation category. Its sophisticated masthead has remained unchanged since its launch.

In the US, 24 new regionals launched in 2008, according to They included Business New England, Virginia Wine Lover, New Heights (Tampa, Florida) and New West (Western Mountain), according to Folio magazine. Some regionals segment their brands even further: Dallas, Texas–based D magazine, for example, has spun off D Home, D CEO and D Weddings.

Another area of robust growth has been business-to-business and professional magazines. In the world of information technology, for example, niche magazine branding is anything but stagnant. One publisher, IDG, is responsible for all of these major global print/online niche publications, read by more than 200 million each month: ChannelWorld, CIO, Computerworld, CSO, DigitalWorld, GamePro, InfoWorld/TechWorld/TecChannel, Macworld, Network World and PC World. IDG publishes more than 300 magazines and newspapers around the world, branding many of its major conferences and events under its publications’ names.

It is a study in micro-branding to look at a list of niche magazines and their markets. Name any business, profession, hobby or lifestyle, and there is more than likely a magazine brand that conveys equally passionate and common-interest brand values by means of logo, content, perspective, attitude and design.

Interested in animals? Scratch through the pages of Aquarium Fish International, Arabian Horse Express, Birding World, Cat Fancy, Dog’s Life, Miniature Donkey Talk or Pet New Zealand.

Into music? Take note of American Songwriter, Australian Guitar, Bluegrass Unlimited, Chamber Music or Church Music Quarterly.

Enjoy sports? Run out and buy a copy of Adventure Cyclist, African American Golfer’s Digest, Australasian Dirt Bike, Boating, Climbing, Fly Fisherman, Mountain Bike, Rugby, Runner’s World, Scuba Diving, Ski or Triathlete.

Looking for a new hobby? In your spare time, read Bead Style, Coin World, Creative Knitting, Dolls, Knives Illustrated, Popular Woodworking, Postcard Collector or Quilter.

Love to travel? Don’t leave home without Business Traveller, Caribbean Travel & Life, Conde Nast Traveler, Islands, National Geographic Traveler, Outside, Travel + Leisure or Travel 50 & Beyond.

The magazines keep on coming, albeit at a slower pace. In 2007, 271 new magazines launched vs. 191 in 2008, according to Magazine Publishers of America. The mortality rate is high: the magazine industry is littered with failures.

Some magazine experts expect 2009 to be an even tougher year. Andy Cohn, VP and group publisher of Fader Media, predicts “five out of every ten magazines and newspapers will go out of business, scale down their frequency or move entirely to the web.” Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of, says 2009 will be “‘the year of the great contraction,’ when dozens of magazines cease print publication or literally shrink in size.” Jessica Sibley, worldwide publisher of BusinessWeek, says 2009 will spawn “the creation of new business models, as well as new ways to approach reader engagement. Traditional media will rally around mobile, video, and social networking…” (all quotes from “117 Magazine and Media Predictions for 2009,” Folio magazine, Dec. 1, 2008).

But whatever this year holds for the magazine business in general, hundreds of niche magazine brands will continue to gain new subscribers, increase their ad pages and maintain a positive bottom line. That’s what good brands do.     



Barry Silverstein has been a frequent brandchannel contributor since 2007. He has thirty years of advertising and marketing experience and is currently a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He founded and ran his own direct marketing agency and held executive positions with Epsilon, a leading database marketing firm and Arnold, a major ad agency. Silverstein is the author of three marketing books, including the McGraw-Hill book, The Breakaway Brand, which he co-authored with Arnold CEO Fran Kelly.

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Magazine Brands: A Niche for Success
 Great article Barry,
The prevalence of niche magazines and their growing popularity makes complete sense. As with great brands, having a well defined focus weeds out brand ambiguity.

Although the trend is for magzines to go online, there still exists a cachet or "badge benefit" of having magazines on the coffee table. For instance, a coffee table with copies of the Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic and The Economist tell us as much about the individual as the Armani suit they wear to work. 
Charlie Quirk - March 2, 2009
 Niche magazines reflect the micro-niching of social identity, where we can each choose to be "anyone we want to be". These various sub-spheres of identity are in fact what is driving brand storytelling in today's business and cultural environment. So while many opportunities exist, magazines will need to continue to innovate their modes of delivery and invite more co-creative/user generated content. The goods news, is that "pride of belonging" means there's an infinite spheres of identity that people want to gather around. The bad news is that they expect to be a part of the story, and want to contribute to writing the next chapter. I think we'll start to see more web-driven and social media-based magazines, who over time expand their print presence. Don't under-estimate the need for two-way communications. The days of the passive "story consumer" are gone. Everyone wants to be a storyteller.Michael MargolisBrand 
Michael Margolis, President, THIRSTY-FISH - March 2, 2009
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