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Expanding Off of Print

Even with the persistence of news on brands shutting down their print magazines in favor of a digital-only model, there are some market segments where print still forms the bedrock of a publisher's strategy. The enthusiast market is one of those and in a keynote at FOLIO:'s recent Growth Summit, Active Interest Media chairman and CEO Skip Zimbalist shared elements of his company's print-centric growth strategy. 
The company, which publishes Yoga Journal, Backpacker, Sail and Climbing, among others, maintains that a strong print platform is the only way to support and launch related digital and event spin-offs.

"The magazines in each of the groups are the core. They make everything else possible," said Zimbalist. "Our objective is to make the print product grow, in circulation and advertising."

He added that the company has increased its investment in circulation marketing. "We need that foundation to be healthy."

That direct mail investment is yielding above-budget response rates, he says, that have been on par with results from the last 10-15 years. "We have not found declining yields in mail."

More specifically, Zimbalist says AIM has also invested in the physical products, upgrading paper quality and trim size. To offset those costs, circulation was cut, in some cases by 25 percent, but backfilled with digital circ. Total reach remained the same, but print stayed healthy. 

Zimbalist said that several advertisers that had been dormant came back after seeing the improved product. Sunglasses maker Oakley, for one, came in with a $250,000 schedule. 

"The lesson is the advertiser wants a beautiful product to showcase their brand. And the reader, if they're paying four bucks, would just as soon pay five bucks. It's a matter of asking the reader to pay a little more for what they're getting. If they're not, in our case, we're not sure we want them or need them."

Other strategies include acquiring smaller magazine brands to create new horizontal categories. Yosemite Magazine was acquired to compliment Backpacker, and Yosemite's editorial model was repeated in new titles for the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountains. 

The Box, a CrossFit training magazine, and Mud & Obstacle, a magazine for adventure racers, were launched to create a category around Black Belt magazine, which had been struggling on its own. The Box was profitable with the first issue. "In combination, if you put Black Belt with The Box and Mud & Obstacle, it's growing. Had we not done that, it would have been a path to going out of business," adds Zimbalist.