Franchise issues generally require extra pages and extra budget allocations. They can also give those that do it right an increased circulation and advertising pick-me-up.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations has yet to release audit reports for the second half of 2008, but despite the downturn, publishers report that all franchises are on track to print. Here’s a look at waning—and flourishing—franchises and whether they will continue to work in 2009.

While Time Inc. lacks an overall point of view regarding the future of its franchises—“the company’s recent reorganization makes this [overall point of view] almost impossible,” says a Sports Illustrated spokesperson—“our special issues are different—our financials are really good.” The rep cites SI’s advertising sales for its February Swimsuit issue as going “relatively well,” as of mid-January. SI’s Publisher’s Statement shows the 2008 Swimsuit issue selling almost 1.1 million single copies with a rate base of 4.5 million, up from its first half average rate base of 3.2 million. While not quite on par with 2006, last year’s Swimsuit issue saw 1.05 million single copy sales. Although the Swimsuit issue is a definite home run, SI’s March 2008 MLB Preview, with a rate base of 3.3 million, sold only 78,000 copies, down from 100,000 in 2007.

Obama Pays Off For Time

Time’s commemorative election issue and Person of the Year issue shattered the magazine’s own single copy sales records. The November 17 election issue sold an estimated 575,000 single copies—nearly five times as many copies as an average issue (approx. 65,000)—forcing the magazine to go back to print four times. The Person of the Year issue is on track to become the biggest-selling cover in the history of the franchise, the magazine says. Time estimates the issue will sell 70 percent more copies than average POTY—close to 400,000 copies.

Not only did the franchise’s single copy sales go through the roof, but reported roughly 30 million page views in mid-December, with more than 1.2 million votes cast in the online poll deciding the winner. Without the Obamarama that spurred single copy sales in 2008, one wonders whether Time will be able to top themselves in print and online in 2009.

People’s 100 World’s Most Beautiful issue upped its rate base 400,000 to 3.8 million in May 2008, selling 1.52 million single copies. With sales yo-yoing from 1.5 million in 2006, down 400,000 from 2007, this had been one of the magazine’s staples since 1992. Now, it looks as though the Hottest Bachelors issue (in 2008, People upped the rate base to 3.6 million), which reported about 1.75 million copies in 2008 from around 1.57 million in the previous years, is topping the charts.

Forbes, with six franchise issues, touts its most popular SIP as the Celebrity 100; yet, it reports the lowest first half 2008 single copy sales of its franchise issues at 30,144 and 103.95 ad pages, according to Forbes and ABC’s Publishers Statement. Forbes’ Celeb 100 seems to be going the way of World’s Most Beautiful.

Business as Usual?

New York publisher Larry Burstein says its themed issues are always much bigger in size than regular issues—its Summer Guide and Best of New York issues are doubles—and many are perfect-bound.

Despite the time and cost that goes into creating its Best of New York franchise, the publisher’s 2009 strategy is “almost identical to our plans in 2008, save for a re-branding of ‘The Inner Peace issue’ as the ‘All New’ issue [which hits newsstands the week of January 12, 2009], in acknowledgement of how much things are changing this new year compared to last,” says Burstein.

New York’s Best of New York issue, which runs annually in March, saw single copy sales increase about 34,400 in 2008, according to ABC’s Publisher’s Statement.
While not a franchise, a Travel+Leisure spokesperson  claims issues like “World’s Best” are on track despite the downturn: “It’s business as usual over here.”

Burstein agrees: “I think proven franchises will continue to work. However, publishers should avoid the trap of themed issues based upon advertiser needs. If they fall into this trap, they’ll end up wedded to a particular special, themed or franchise issue year after year.”