How to Create a Circulation Strategy for Startups and Spin-Offs
New magazine launches and spin-offs have to start with a good idea. That's a given. The good idea should naturally steer the publication to strong editorial content. The bump in the road often comes when it's time to build circulation;because without readers there are no advertisers and thus no advertising dollars contributing revenue. So, what's a circulation director to do when their publisher comes to them with a spankin' new publication in need of an audience? Folio: asked a successful spin-off publisher how it creates circ-building strategies.
Budgets, Timelines and Name Acquisition
When money is tight, as it is for many publishers right now, you may want to dream big but start small.
Dan Wiesner, CEO of Wiesner Publishing, is responsible for 32 magazine launches since 1995. His budgeting strategy for his controlled-circulation stable of magazines typically stretches over a three-year timeline.
For the first eight months, the budget is set to about $20,000, which primarily pays for cover wraps to be sent with copies of the magazine to potential qualified subscribers. Wiesner also accounts for any lists that may be purchased during the time frame. "We keep costs down on the front-end because we want to generate a lot of activity on the file and get people to sign up," he says. "We're shotgunning the magazine to everyone. If the magazine doesn't work we don't want to spend all of our money on the front-end."
The next three to four months involve evaluation of the file of names, to see what's working on subscriber acquisition and what's not. Alterations are made accordingly and in the next six to 12 months, the budget jumps to $50,000 or $60,000 in an effort to create an 80 percent first-year direct written request and 20 percent second-year direct written request file. "In an ideal world you want to be 100-percent direct written request but that's very expensive to get those names," says Wiesner. "Some of the low quality circulation is going to be in there, but that's okay because it fits our primary goal."
Wiesner sets the standard at 80/20 because he says it's a number that agencies accept. "If it was 40 percent they would say, 'You're not doing enough for our ad dollars,'" he says. "For a startup, 80/20 is livable enough."
The final phase is a less-aggressive maintenance mode, where the budget drops to around $40,000. This phase begins 18 months after the initial circulation effort and continues to 24 to 36 months. As soon as you reach 51 percent of your circulation, you should apply to be audited, says Wiesner. "It shows agencies and customers that you're fulfilling the promise to reach your goals in 24 months," he says. "We send a notice out to our customers and print it in the magazine that we've applied."
Establishing the Number
Wiesner uses two methods to establish rate base: Market coverage and comparisons to competitors. Strong market coverage (Wiesner usually strives for an 80 percent goal of total market) is acquired through a strong database. For the launch of Senior Market Advisor, Wiesner aggregated a list of 50,000 names in the bank advisor universe and set the circulation at 40,000.
Wiesner also looks at competitors and says he typically comes up with a CPM and ratebase that is just below that of the competition. Wiesner launched Senior Market Advisor's circulation to match the competitive set, but set the CPM rate at $5 less per thousand.
"In year one, the last thing I want to have is a fight about price," Wiesner says. "So we will come in right underneath, therefore eliminating the objection of, 'You're the most expensive CPM-wise,'" he says. "Then, if we hit it off and our magazine is successful, we'll aggressively increase rates so we surpass competitors."