Magazine madness: Print it, and they will read

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 1:00am

When marketers discuss reaching specialized audiences, talk usually focuses on cable television, the once proverbial and now real "500-channel universe." However, they may be missing the boat on an old technology.

There seems to be a TV channel for everyone. For viewers, this is a slice of heaven in the Information Age that allows them access to whatever they want whenever they want it. But for marketers, it presents problems.

On the positive side, this specialization means they can identify and talk to very specific audiences. On the negative side, tiny cable audiences are very difficult to measure, and those fragmented audiences make it hard to test which marketing messages worked.

Is there really a magazine for everyone? Scan the list below and see whether you can tell which are real and which are yet to come.
Anti-Infectives Week (all about combating infections)
Cath Lab Digest (for cardiovascular pros)
Doll Castle News (for doll collectors)
Fiery Food and Barbecue Magazine (for spicy food lovers)
Eastern Fly Fishing (for anglers east of the Mississippi River)
Grit & Steel (for South Carolina fowl fanciers)
Martha Stewart Prison Living (for jailed executives)
Rich Guy Magazine (for multi-millionaires ages 25-50)
Horseless Carriage Gazette (for fans of cars built before 1916)
Style Manitoba (lifestyles for the far north)
Xtreme Wildlife (about hunting, angling and spear fishing, not frat parties)

The only one that's not real is Martha Stewart Prison Living. At least for now.
By the way, Rich Guy Magazine is a quarterly with a circulation of 115,000. Wouldn't you like to have its subscriber list for a direct-mail campaign for your luxury product?

While many people have focused on cable, another medium has had even more growth over the past 20 years, and its measurement is simple. That medium is magazines. Lots of magazines. Specialized magazines with devoted readers.

Yes, the printed word remains relevant in the electronic and digital era.

Just 20 years ago, there were fewer than 1,500 magazines in this country. By all accounts, consumers didn't think they were missing anything. Today, that number is 400 percent larger - 6,000 magazine titles. And the list grows no matter what happens to the economy.

You've likely seen the TV commercial in which the crusty journalism professor declares, "It is difficult today to be published because you need capital." Of course, the class smart aleck points out that all you really need is a computer and a desktop publishing program.

The smart aleck is right. It is easier than ever to publish a magazine for any interest, hobby or passion.

It used to be that a few magazines commanded large audiences, and buying advertising was very simple (and perhaps done with the aid of several martinis).

To reach golfers, you bought Golf Digest. To reach a home improvement audience, you bought Better Homes & Gardens or Southern Living (for respectable Southerners, of course). To reach women, it was Cosmopolitan or Family Circle (but not necessarily the same women). For football fans, it was Sports Illustrated or Playboy (acquired for the articles, of course). It was a simpler world.

Now, a multitude of new publications has grown out of the passions of consumers who demand customization.

Golfers can choose based on their affluence; consider the very upscale Links or Golf Connoisseur. Coastal Living targets people who reside (or aspire to be) near the water. The mountain crowd reads Cottage Living. Young women read Cosmopolitan knock-offs such as Cosmo Girl, Elle Girl and J-14. Finally, ESPN The Magazine, Maxim and FHM are definitely not your father's Oldsmobile.

Marketers have embraced this approach, but the wise ones show the right amount of caution, too. They want to talk one-on-one with their best prospects through those specialized magazines, but they want the magazines to be accountable for their distribution. Third-party audits provide assurance, and that independent verification of circulation helps magazines attract more ad dollars.

One of my peers in the business calls magazines "the original permission-based media," where readers welcome editorial and advertising content that interests them. I agree wholeheartedly.

Magazines are "brands" that reflect the innermost desires of a particular audience. As long as society's tastes and interests continue to evolve, very targeted publications will address those tastes and interests - and marketers will study them to see whether their messages get through the magazine-madness clutter.

"Marketing Insights & Trends" is written by staffers at BOHAN Advertising/Marketing. This column is by Rich Melin, vice president and media director.

Filed under: City Business