A venerated cash cow for Time Inc., Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue generates 7 percent of the magazine's annual revenue. Its readership is estimated to be 30% female, and the magazine is known to influence bikini and swimsuit trends and sales.
In this year's culturally diverse issue, which hits stands on Tuesday with a multilplatform splash, SI has tweaked its barely-there offerings in an effort to appeal to the estimated 18 million women in the issue's readership by offering a six-page fashion guide, which is accompanied with six pages of ads from Target.
Women are "a part of our franchise that we can grow," said SI swimsuit editor M.J. Day to the New York Times. "Why not deliver more to them?"
The guide features model interviews and makeup tips, while Target’s pages of ads feature swimsuits for sale in its stores. “From a business standpoint, swim is a huge business for Target,” said Michelle Mesenburg, its marketing vp, in The Times. “We wanted to have something that was a little more innovative and not just an ad in the book.”
The online magazine Slate observed: “Men’s magazines sell women’s bodies. Women’s magazines sell women’s bodies. For SI, leveraging male eye candy in the service of female anxiety seems like a cost-effective move. If it were to court female readers by integrating some itsy-bitsy Speedo'd men into the swimsuit spread, it would risk turning off the issue’s heterosexual male audience. But toss in some copy about achieving 'tousled beachy hair,' and watch the women-focused ad dollars roll in."
Supermodel Kate Upton is on the cover of the issue for the second consecutive year. The cover was to be revealed on “The Late Show with David Letterman” on Monday night, but leaked onto the web Friday. A rep for Time Inc. said the company was investigating the leak, but added: "If anything, it just elongates the launch.’"
The issue is supported by a highly produced rollout including events, along with print, digital and video releases. Last year, a companion mobile app garnered 482,000 downloads in its first week. (See a video trailer for the issue here.)
Upton joins a class of previous top models adorning the cover including Tyra Banks, Christie Brinkley, Kathy Ireland and Elle McPherson who graced it five times. SI partnered with the Travel Channel for a behind-the-scenes shoot on all seven continents, including Antarctica, set to air Sunday, Feb. 17.