Yankee: From Humble New England Beginnings to National Syndication
How a regional magazine looked beyond its borders for growth.
In the small New Hampshire town of Dublin, about 80 miles northeast of Boston, an 83-year-old regional magazine has big media aspirations.
For decades, Yankee magazine has been a staple in homes and checkout lines across New England. It’s one piece of Yankee Publishing’s portfolio—which also includes the iconic 226-year-old The Old Farmer’s Almanac and New Hampshire magazine—but Yankee is the company’s flagship and it is becoming a national brand, with more than 60 percent of its audience now coming from outside of New England.
“Starting three years ago we identified our business priorities, and we saw ourselves becoming more than a print magazine or regional publication,” says publisher Brook Holmberg. “So we relaunched our website in 2016. And we thought about what we could do for a national audience in order to get them to read about New England. We always owned the URL newengland.com but we weren’t really using it. So when we relaunched we decided to take that URL and offer free content separate from the magazine.”
This strategy wasn’t a pivot away from print or paid content. Instead, the magazine content is now behind a metered paywall, and the freemiums offered on site have helped attract new subscribers and increased brand awareness, Holmberg purports.
“The growth in traffic we’ve seen is significant,” he says. “We went from 200-300,000 monthly visitors to 500-600,000.” Holmberg suggests some of that engagement is attributable to new e-letters and social media, where combined, they are reaching several hundreds of thousands of readers and followers.
The homepage is not what you might expect at first glance. Visitors are met with six navigation tiles—New England Today, Yankee Magazine, Yankee TV, New England Foliage, New England Calendar and New England Guides. So essentially, the site is broken up by regional journalism, premium content, and the utilities many have come to expect from a regional publisher.
Syndication on the small screen
TV and magazines have had a symbiotic relationship for decades. Even now in what is undeniably a difficult time for the industry, we still see TV brands launching in print, and vice versa. But a regional magazine doing that across the country? That’s a different story, and one that Yankee can now tell.
“Two years ago we began discussions with WGBH and ended up creating a ‘Weekends with Yankee,’” Holmberg says. “The goal of the series is to shine a spotlight on the region over 13 weeks. It was picked up by PBS in 49 out of 50 states. We also had hundreds-of-thousands of viewers, so that really showed there is a national interest here.”
There has since been a second season, with a third on the way, and the series is available on iTunes. Holmberg says the company is shopping it around to major steaming services—all the usual suspects you’d expect: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, et. al. But more importantly, this exposure has given the Yankee brand an opportunity to work with national advertisers.
“Now we are talking six-figure buys versus five figures,” Holmberg says.
Paying the bills
Holmberg candidly admits that the new business initiatives required a serious investment, but he is also happy to report that it has already been mostly paid back, and he and the company are expecting sizable gains in the next three to five years. “We will make more money this year than any year prior,” he says.
Likewise, Holmberg says he expects the TV series to be a profit center in its third season, and it is already on pace to reach its revenue and sponsorship goals.
“We’re getting strong renewal rates and more money year-over-year, and more interest in our brand, so we think the model is working,” he concludes.
Yankee also offers some of the digital ad products you’d expect from premium publishers in 2018, including native units that can be placed in e-letters. Still, at the end of the day, the Yankee magazine brand legacy was built on print, so this pivot in today’s market begs to ask: Where print does fit into the equation moving forward?
“Print is still the core today, and even with our fancy website the goal is to sell print subscriptions,” Holmberg says. “It’s what our audience and our profits tell us. My thinking is that in five or 10 years from now there will still be a print form. It will probably be nicer than it is today. We are already bimonthly so I don’t foresee less than that, but I think a better product that that people want to hold on to is where the industry is heading, and we don’t expect us to move away from that.”
While Yankee’s audience may not be in the tens of millions like some national brands, it’s certainly meeting its objective to reach beyond the northeastern corner of the United States. And more importantly, it’s continuing to tell stories, engage readers (and now viewers) and make money.