As part of the sale of Time4Media to Bonnier Corp. earlier this year, 135-year-old Popular Science is getting a new aggressive growth strategy, leveraging social media and live events to court a younger demographic and even prepare for an upcoming print launch.
Popular Science currently boasts 1.3 million subscribers and 6.9 million readers, 81 percent of whom are male, with an average age of 44. Publisher Gregg Hano contends that readers first get exposed to the magazine at a young age, and he wants to re-introduce 20-somethings to the magazine. "We get a lot of readers in school, then we lose them when they find beer and girls and all that," says Hano. "We want to say, ﾑHey, we’re still here, we can talk to you about what you loved before,’ which is new products, new technologies and how they affect your lives."
Finding those younger readers is requiring Popular Science to adopt new marketing tactics. "We’re getting close to the end of the universe in what we can do with direct mail," says Hano. "It’s been great but how do you introduce or reintroduce a product to people who have a passion for the subject matter?"
As part of a new suite of community-oriented features rolling out on Popsci.com, the magazine recently launched the PopSci Predictions Exchange (PPX) which allows players to "buy" and "sell" futures predictions. PopSci editors will propose themes in categories such as technology, aviation and Web trends and players will use a starting account of $250,000 in POP virtual currency. Players with the most valuable portfolios will be shown on a leaderboard at Popsci.com and will be eligible for prizes and awards given out in custom challenges.
The user-generated content will be integrated into PopSci’s monthly editorial content with a back page dedicated to PPX and the status of the propositions. The promotion launched June 11 and at presstime had drawn more than 9,000 participants. "We’re using the Web to drive content to the magazine, rather than using the magazine to drive content to the Web," says Hano. "In print, we will be talking about the market propositions and following some of the people involved. We’re using it online first to drive a different type of reader – younger, more tech-savvy;into the magazine."
As part of that shift beyond direct mail, Popular Science has teamed with AdPerk, a service that hosts advertising videos on publisher Web sites that rewards consumers with sample issues and free subscriptions for watching the videos. AdPerk also pays publishers between 50 cents and full retail price for each magazine issue served, and subscribers obtained through AdPerk count as real circulation. "This gives us a chance to hopefully tap a new demographic, maybe a younger demo we aren’t reaching in direct mail," says Popular Science consumer marketing director Bob Cohn. "At the same time, we get paid, unlike going through traditional third-party agents, a significant amount of money for the subscription."
Big Brand on Campus
In September, PopSci will launch a college tour dubbed "What’s New" that will visit 10 campuses around the country presenting a "high tech mobile dorm room" allowing students to see, touch and play with the latest home and mobile entertainment technology.
The tour is positioned as a revenue generator, not just a brand vehicle and sponsors include JVC, Intel, The U.S. Marines Corps., Hitachi Power Tools, Discover Card, and Indy Racing. While JVC is committed strictly to the tour at this point, Intel has extended its part of the effort into the magazine and online. "We’re beginning to introduce a product they’ve already known of while they’re on campus," says Hano. "We want to begin to get the magazine back in the minds of these young men and women."
Popular Science is also shopping ideas for television programs on science and technology, including one featuring popsci.com editor Megan Miller and her alter ego, "Future Girl," conducting interviews. The magazine is also considering other one-off TV shows based on some of its franchise print stories including The Worst Jobs in Science and The Brilliant 10, which profiles 10 up-and-comers in the science field.
Back to Print
Beyond its multimedia push, Popular Science will also launch a new magazine this fall called Science Illustrated. The magazine is actually a Bonnier-owned import from Scandinavia that will focus on the natural sciences, rather than the gears and gadgets of Popular Science, according to Hano.
Through its September 2007 issue, Popular Science has seen its ad pages go up by about 5 percent year-over-year while its average reader age has gotten slightly younger, per MRI, Hano claims.
"The migration from Time Inc. to Bonnier has allowed us to be much more entrepreneurial and much more quick to market," says Hano. "Our first quarter was a little light in ad pages, and we’ve made a strong comeback starting with the April issue. We were up 17 percent on the newsstand for 2006 over 2005, and right now we’re trending up about 6 percent through the June issue of 2007."