In a regional magazine space challenged by diminishing print revenues, one lifestyle publisher is bucking the trend.
In March, ALIVE Media Group announced the bold step of reinvesting in its print product, reducing frequency but increasing quality, converting to a bookazine format and instituing a paid subscription model. Now, the company is doubling down on that investment, revealing plans to expand distribution beyond Missouri to seven additional markets throughout the Midwest.
Beginning in 2017, ALIVE will attempt to bring the authoritative fashion, design, art, and culture voice it's spent the last 14 years cultivating in St. Louis to communities in Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Louisville, Minneapolis, Nashville, and Omaha.
According to ALIVE co-founder and publisher Elizabeth Tucker, the move is an affirmation of the print rebrand and the enduring vitality of a high-quality regional magazine that can serve its community with integrity.
"We have had our sights on expanding our concept into additional markets, but we wanted to see how the St. Louis audience responded first," Tucker tells Folio:. "Once we saw an overwhelmingly positive response around the rebrand, we had the validation we needed to expand into other markets."
Last week's announcement that Emmis Communications was offloading its print assets heralded a troubling trend in the regional magazine space of investors fleeing for safer bets in digital media.
According to Tucker, not only has the ALIVE's overall audience — including an influx of print subscribers — doubled since last year, but ad rates have increased 30 percent, indicating that advertisers are just as willing to pay for the higher quality print product as readers.
"Over the last few years we’ve seen the middle of America give birth to important movements and work in arts, culture, music, style and activism," adds ALIVE editor-in-chief, Attilio D'Agostino. "We felt it was time for an elevated publication to honor these makers, artists, creators, activists and communities — to connect them to each other and show their energy and creativity to the world.”
For a brand that relies heavily on an intimate knowledge of its local community and the sensibilities of its residents, expanding into new and unfamiliar markets may present a daunting challenge. To that end, ALIVE has enlisted influencers who already have deep ties to each of the local communities targeted for expansion.
"We started the expansion six months ago by launching stories in select markets that are tied to important influencers," Tucker continues. We look forward to expanding our relationships with key influencers in each market, meeting new and interesting artists and makers, learning about the entrepreneurs and small businesses that make each community tick and telling the stories of art, culture, style, and civic progress."
Another key to ALIVE's extra-regional growth, says Tucker, is continuing to expand the company's brand strategy agency, which launched in 2014 and has since doubled its revenues year-over-year. This year, St. Louis Fashion Week, which ALIVE launched in 2006 and ALIVE Agency now produces, is expanding into a full, ten-week fashion season. Late last year, the company launched EQ, a quarterly magazine focused on the St. Louis tech start-up scene, which has since been spun off as a separate entity.
The growth doesn't stop there. Just last week, ALIVE relaunched its website, ALIVEmag.com, complete with mobile optimization and a revamped user experience that allows readers to navigate from story to story through a variety of tags based on topics or even moods.
In selecting the new markets for expansion, Tucker says ALIVE valued cities in the middle of America with growing communities of 28-to-58 year-olds who are interested in design and culture. But the brand's ambitions don't end there.
"Eventually," adds Tucker, "We’d like to be in every major market across the U.S., providing a perspective from the middle of America."
This article was updated on Tuesday, August 30th at 12:13pm.