At The New Yorker Festival, Non-Subscribers Outnumber Brand Devotees
Audience development, ticket prices, and "native panels" — events mean revenues, even for The New Yorker.
It took only five seconds for the 1,400 seats at one of the first book talks of The New Yorker Festival (TNYF) to sell out. The author happened to be American rock legend Bruce Springsteen, but it was record-setting nonetheless.
Of course, not every magazine brand has the same following as The New Yorker. The main event had ticket purchasers from 30 different countries, as well as attendees from 45 states and Washington, DC.
The festival saw 20,000 people attend 50 events from October 7 to 9. While the popularity of the brand and the population density of New York City facilitates a uniquely large event, publisher Lisa Hughes tells Folio: that The New Yorker is concerned about the same things as any other publisher: audience acquisition, ticket sales, and advertising revenues.
As with competing events, like The Week Live, TNYF was entirely programmed by editorial staff. Headed up by festival director Rhonda Sherman, and heavily guided by EIC David Remnick, the festival is meant to feel authentic to the magazine’s point of view.
“It’s an editorial outgrowth of what we do,” Hughes tells Folio:. “You gotta believe that the editorial staff of The New Yorker has their hand on the pulse of what’s cool. Our writers are out there, they know what’s coming up and what’s interesting.”
That Saturday, on stage with author Jonathan Safran Foer, Remnick reflected on the awkwardness of being a child, forced to sit in a dressing room while his grandmother tried on clothing.
Later that day, a panel of reporters and contributors discussed the difficulties they faced when “Reporting on Reform” — as the panel was called. Moderated by executive editor Dorothy Wickenden, the audience's enthusiasm during the Q&A proved that the magazine staff was as much the subject of intrigue as the celebrity guests.
This is great news for Hughes, who describes the 17-year-old festival as a “long-term audience development play,” and successful outreach to bringing in Millennial readers. Despite having more than a million subscribers between print and digital, only a quarter of event attendees subscribe to the magazine.
“For many people, it’s how they get introduced to the brand,” Hughes tells Folio:. “It’s a mix of the avid reader and fan, and someone who comes because they’re a big fan of the person that we’re interviewing.”
Of course, like many other magazine brands, it’s also a significant revenue stream. While Hughes wouldn’t disclose specifics, she emphasized the value of ticket sales. With many events in the $50 range (and a couple at $150 and $175), selling out most events is good business.
Then there’s the sponsorships. In an appropriation of contemporary advertising language, TNYF offered marketers “native panels.” Under this offer, the entertainment network Epix sponsored several showings of their upcoming series, all free for guests to attend
The event also featured a native panel incorporating speakers from other Condé Nast brands — the first of its kind, but probably not the last.
“We’re really looking to work as one company, and this was really successful,” Hughes says.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the top ticket price as $280. It is $175.