City and regional magazines have been one of the hottest magazine categories in recent years. While both the b-to-b and mass market consumer sectors continue to struggle post-recession, city and regional titles are booming, and continuing to expand beyond major metropolitan areas to smaller towns and regions (Gary Whitaker, publisher of 417 Magazine, which serves its namesake Zip Code in Southern Missouri, was even named to the Folio: 40 this year). Many national titles—both trade and consumer—are spinning off regional editions to capitalize on the hunger for regionalized content.

But success breeds imitation, and many city and regional publishers find themselves facing more competition within the last few years than ever before. Folio: teamed up with Readex Research for its first-ever city and regional magazine survey. We polled a variety of regional publishers on topics ranging from the number of titles they publish to the number of competitors that have entered their markets to how their revenue mix has grown and changed over the last three years.
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We found that with few exceptions, city and regional publishers are primarily focused on one main title. And, as a whole, they’re bucking the trend of moving away from print advertising as the primary revenue stream. And 30 percent say between three and five new competitors have entered their markets within the last five years.


The survey sample of 476 was selected by Red 7 Media from all Folio: subscribers who classified their company’s primary focus as city/regional publishing on the Folio: subscription form.

Data was collected via mail survey by Readex Research from April 18 to May 23, 2006. The survey was closed for tabulation with 193 usable responses—a 41 percent response rate. To ensure representation of the audience of interest, results have been filtered to include only those who indicated on the survey their organizations are involved in city/regional publishing. The margin of error for percentages based on these 175 respondents is plus or minus 5.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

Sizing the Market

When asked how many titles they produce, 45 percent of respondents said they publish one magazine, while 19 percent say they publish two titles (Table 1, page 29). Interestingly, the next largest percentage, 10 percent, say they produce between four and six magazines, while 9 percent say they produce three magazines, and 7 percent say they produce seven or more.

The sweet spot for regional circulation varies widely. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said their smallest city and regional publication has circulation between 20,000 and 39,000, followed by 22 percent who said their smallest circulation runs between 10,000 and 19,999 (Table 2A, left). Fourteen percent of respondents say their smallest magazines are under 10,000 circulation, while 8 percent said their smallest titles have circulation of 100,000 or more.

On the other side, 26 percent of respondents said their largest publication has between 20,000 and 39,999 circulation (which makes sense considering how many single title publishers were in the survey). Meanwhile, 18 percent said their largest title has circulation of 100,000 or more while 6 percent say their largest title has circulation of less than 10,000 (Table 2B, page 29).

The majority of respondents (31 percent) say their main source of circulation is paid, with newsstand sales, while controlled “not requested” exceeded paid subscription-only, 26 percent to 6 percent (Table 3, page 29). Controlled requested accounted for 9 percent while free titles accounted for 10 percent.

When it comes to their target markets, 27 percent of respondents say they are focused on “luxury lifestyle” (Table 6, page 30). Nine percent of respondents identified themselves as targeting the “shelter category.” Thirty-three percent of respondents said they were not part of the general categories of luxury lifestyle, fashion, bridal or garden, instead opting for a mix of travel and lifestyle, parenting and health/fitness. However, 26 percent of respondents say they are not targeted to a niche market.

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Revenue Mix

In 2006, 31 percent of respondents say their projected revenue will be between $1 million and $4.9 million (Table 5, page 30). Meanwhile, 13 percent of respondents say they expect revenue to be between $500,000 and $749,000. Among the heavyweights, 6 percent expect their revenue to be $10 million or more in 2006. Reflecting a significant number of startups, 10 percent of respondents say they expect their revenue to be less than $100,000 for this year.

Revenue has grown nicely for city and regional magazines over the last three years. Fifty-five percent of respondents said that overall revenue has increased at their publications over the last three years, while 10 percent say revenue has stayed about the same and 5 percent say revenue has decreased (Table 4, page 30). Among those who say revenue has increased, the most significant number (24 percent), say revenue has grown between 10 percent and 29 percent. Twelve percent say revenue has grown by 50 percent or more while 11 percent say it’s increased between 30 percent and 40 percent.

For those respondents who’ve seen a revenue decline over the last three years, the drop has been significant. None of the respondents say they’ve had a decline of less than 5 percent, while 2 percent say revenue has dropped between 5 percent and 9 percent, while 3 percent say they’ve experienced a fall-off of 10 percent or more. A whopping 22 percent of respondents couldn’t answer the question because their magazine didn’t exist three years ago.

City and regional magazine publishers are bucking the trend that the general magazine universe is experiencing with diversifying away from print as the primary revenue generator (Table 13, page 31). More than 85 percent of respondents said that in 2003, print advertising was their largest revenue stream. In 2005, that number actually increased, with 87.1 percent of respondents saying print was their largest revenue stream.

Meanwhile, other revenue sources fell off slightly, including paid subscriptions, which dropped from 11.2 percent in 2005 to 9.5 percent in 2006. Already a small percentage of revenue among city and regional publishers in 2003, data and market information sales slipped to 1.5 percent of total revenue in 2005.

And while they aren’t growing as rapidly as national consumer and b-to-b publishers, two exceptions include events, which grew from just under 1 percent of revenue in 2003 to 1.3 percent in 2006, and online, which tripled from 0.2 percent in 2003 to 0.6 percent in 2006.

When it comes to expenses, city and regional publishers are getting the job done on relatively thrifty budgets. Thirty-eight percent of respondents say they spent less than $100,000 on publication-related services in 2005 (Table 12, page 31). Another 17 percent said they spent between $100,000 and $249,000, while 13 percent spent between $250,000 and $499,999 and another 13 percent said they spent $1 million or more in 2005.

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Product Launches

City and regional magazines are relatively inexpensive to get off the ground. The majority of respondents (58 percent) say they launched their publications with less than $100,000 in initial investment while 17 percent say they launched with between $100,000 and $249,000. At the other end of the spectrum, 6 respondents say they launched their publication with $1 million or more in initial investment.

A whopping 76 percent of respondents say they have not launched a spin-off yet, while 23 percent say they have. Shelter is the most popular category for spin-offs, with 20 percent of respondents saying they are targeting that sector for branded extentions, followed by 15 percent opting for the luxury lifestyle sector.

About 37 percent of respondents say they generated less than $100,000 from their spin-off products in 2005 (Table 10, page 30) while 24 percent say they took in between $100,000 and $249,000 in revenue last year. Twelve percent saw between $750,000 and $999,999 in revenue from spin-offs in 2005, while a happy 7 percent say they generated more than $1 million.

Competition Rising

Competition is heating up among city and regional publishers (Table 8, page 30). While 23 percent of respondents say they haven’t seen any new competitors launch within the last five years, 30 percent say three to five new competitors have entered their market within the last five years. Nineteen percent say they have seen one new competitor launch, while 18 percent are dealing with two new competitors, and six percent say they are now contending with six or more competitors that launched within the last five years.

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