Only A little more than a year after its first issue hit newsstands, Key West took home seven regional magazine excellence awards this August at the 2007 Charlie Awards, presented by the Florida Magazine Association, including two first place awards for Best Public Service Coverage and for Best Feature. “Key West fills a tremendous vacuum by providing a ‘big city’ quality lifestyle magazine that celebrates all things Key West,” says Joe Policy, Key West marketing, distribution and development manager. “If you live in Key West you’re not going to read Boca or any of the Miami magazines—it’s an entirely different way of life.”

Launching a regional magazine represented a major switch for founder Bill Semich, who came from 40 years of b-to-b publishing, and who also serves as CEO of a domain name registry company. Semich is editor and publisher of Key West. “The single driving ‘big idea’ for the magazine came to me when I moved here four years ago and saw how much money is being spent to develop this city,” says Semich. “I see my decision to launch Key West magazine as being comparable to the investors who decided to buy the city’s old coal-fired power plant, gut it, and turn it into condos selling for $2 million to $5 million. These are our advertisers and their baby boomer customers are our readers.”

Growing Pains
Prior to launching Key West, Semich dipped his toe into the market by purchasing two local magazines, The Key West Journal and Key Wester. The publications generated combined ad sales revenue of just under $1 million but neither had enough traction to keep publishing. “Roger Black’s only comment when he looked at them was, ‘Shut them down, put them out of their misery,’” Semich says. “They were basically mini-mall and nail salon-type advertising publications.”

Still, the magazines provided Semich with some resources and staff, including two salespeople and an editor. “They had some value in their existing business infrastructrures which saved me several months of getting ready to launch a new magazine in a relatively new (to me) market,” says Semich. “And I’ll stress that it’s an island community, not a place to break into quickly or easily. Resources are few and far between in Key West.”

Semich also took over the existing circulation systems (and relationships) from The Key West Journal and Key Wester, which included in-room hotel placement. “It’s not a simple matter to arrange for a Westin or Hyatt resort hotel manager to agree to take on the responsibility of distributing your magazine in every room every month—and to then assign cleaning staff to replace them after the guests leave and take a copy with them,” says Semich. Today Key West uses a combination of controlled/qualified circulation and hotel distribution.

Launching Key West also required finding a professional printer—the printer for Key West Journal was a born-again Christian who censored both edit and ad content in the publication, according to Semich, who switched to R.R. Donnelley at an even lower price.

When Key West debuted in March 2006, it printed 15,000 copies of a 72-page issue, plus a four-page cover. The initial goal was to hold to an 80-page minimum while the staff built a minimum ad/edit ratio of 40/60, with a longer-term goal of reaching a predictable 60/40 ad-edit ratio within two years. Since then, Key West hasn’t printed an issue with fewer than 80 pages plus cover. “From my days at Cahners, the rule of thumb for a new magazine launch was you needed two-to-four years of investment before you could expect to start breaking even—assuming the magazine was going to be a success,” says Semich. “We are now entering our second year of publication and I’m happy where we are. The ad/edit ratio for October is 44/56—our best month yet.”

Using Audience Engagement Data to Improve Editorial Content
Check out this related session at The Folio: Show, November 1-2 in NYC!

Editors have more audience data at their disposal than ever. It’s a no-brainer that they have to use it. They…