I interviewed Kristy Kaus, Active Interest Media’s research director, for a story I wrote in the January issue of FOLIO:. Kaus has been doing cover research for a number of AIM’s enthusiast titles, and her program has provided a measurable boost in newsstand sales. The research is done via online surveys-a method that puts cover testing well in the realm of small to mid-sized enthusiast publishers that otherwise wouldn’t spring for a full-on, focus-group or direct mail approach.

The testing is performed through a proprietary Web-based survey platform developed by Kaus, and can be executed with a 36-hour turnaround. If you’re feeling skittish about using an online-based testing group, don’t be. Kaus notes that readers are typically online anyway, and backtested her groups just to be sure their opinions matched performance. "We tested a past poor performer versus a past top performer. With every control on the online survey the top performer won. So that was enough to validate the program for us, that it’s effective. And it gave us enough assurance that moving forward was a smart idea," Kaus told me.

I suppose it’s a more guerrilla approach to cover testing, and perhaps not as hermetically sealed as a formal, live version, but Kaus’ numbers speak for themselves: "For every test that I have done, the sellthrough has either stabilized with the same issue month the year prior or it has increased, and in some cases increased pretty substantially," says Kaus. Southwest Art jumped 12 percent in singlecopy sales, and Vegetarian Times increased 21 percent, for example.

Not too shabby.

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