Gary Whitaker: Publisher, 417 MAGAZINE
This publisher bought a struggling regional magazine and quadrupled its subscribers, tripled its staff and diversified its offerings.
Gary Whitaker’s once-struggling magazine is growing so quickly, he felt guilty taking a recent vacation.
But if anybody needs a break, it’s Whitaker. After all, 417 (covering the region in Southern Missouri with that area code) was hemorrhaging $15,000 a month and had just 300 subscribers when he bought it from a radio station in May 2001. Today, it prints 20,000 issues a month and has 12,000 paid subscribers. Last year, the magazine took in $1.6 million in advertising revenue.
"They didn’t have much of a marketing plan or circulation plan in place when we bought it," Whitaker says, adding that although he has quadrupled readership, he hasn’t quadrupled his ad rates. "We’ve inched them up and we’re getting anywhere from $1,300 to $1,900 depending on the frequency. And we can get up to $2,500 for premium space."
After buying the magazine, Whitaker, who used his house to raise capital, told employees the magazine had until the end of the year to break even or it would go belly-up and he would be homeless. "We were even by October," he says. Today, the profit margin is over 20 percent.
As of March 2006, 417 had already booked $1.6 million in revenue and is on track to do at least $2 million with help from some new niche publications.
The magazine’s annual bridal supplement, for example, has been turned into a twice yearly bridal publication. Its Home publication, also a one-time yearly supplement, will move from twice annually to quarterly next year. The magazine also launched Go, a bi-weekly tabloid targeting greater Springfield’s 60,000 or so college-age students; and a supplement called Encore, which targets retired baby boomers.
The publications have been well-received and created not only reader niches, but advertising niches for 417. "Offering the niche publications is a good way of reaching advertisers that either couldn’t afford to advertise in our regular magazine or advertisers that want the opportunity to reach niche audiences," says Whitaker. "At the same time, we don’t want to stretch ourselves or our advertisers too thin."
VITAL STATS: 417 printed 3,000 issues monthly and had 300 subscribers in 2001. Today, under Gary Whitaker’s guidance the magazine prints 20,000 issues a month and has 12,000 paid subscribers. Whitaker launched four new niche publications to complement 417 last year and brought in revenues of $1.6 million.