Looks Like Meredith is Banking on the Niche

Are we witnessing a very public example of the swing from mass market to niche in magazines?

In October, Meredith National Media Group announced they would cease publishing Family Circle, an iconic mass-market magazine, at the end of this year.  This news comes in spite of the fact the title currently boasts 4 million + subscribers.

Some might look at this as bad news for the industry when a stalwart title like Family Circle goes dark. Others (self-included) see it as proof positive that magazine publishers are getting smarter about their assets and how to use them.

As D. Eadward Tree explains in Publishing Executive, there are several things going on here.

“U.S. mass-market magazines typically have many subscribers who don’t pay enough to cover the publisher’s cost of printing and mailing them their magazines,” Tree writes. “Sometimes, a publisher collects no money for some subscriptions. The newsstand system isn’t necessarily better; sometimes the cost of promotions and of producing so many unsold copies eats up all the profits.

Boosting circulation is a throw-back strategy to the pre-digital days when ad rates were based almost solely on how many copies existed in the world. Those days are gone, and publishers of mass-market titans now have massive, but ultimately not terribly valuable, subscriber lists. (I still get Family Circle delivered to my house, even though I haven’t subscribed to it for years. I’m on their “we want you back” list, apparently.)

Consumers, meanwhile, are increasingly self-selective and niche magazine title growth is robust. As the age of mass-market gives way to special interest everything, big-name publishers are learning some potentially game-changing lessons from the niche side.

The heart of the lesson is a simple truth: no matter the size of your audience, they are seeking something specific from you. Their interest in your brand goes beyond what you’re writing about. It depends on how you’re writing about it, the personality of your content if you will.

Meredith knows this. They recently announced the launch of the personality-driven Property Brothers magazine, to join their wildly successful Magnolia Journal. While you might think of a “niche” audience as small in number, Meredith has proven that niche interests like these can mean mega-audience engagement.

As Family Circle winds down, what happens to those 4 million subscribers?

“Those subscribers are about to become more valuable to Meredith: After they receive the final (December 2019) issue of Family Circle, their accounts will be transferred to other, more profitable Meredith titles,” Tree explains.

“The excess subscribers will enable those magazines to boost their circulation profitability. They can cut out the unprofitable, ‘oh my God, we need more subscribers fast’ types of subscriptions and charge higher rates when such subscriptions come up for renewals,” Tree continues.

Meredith is poised to turn their first-party customer data in gold if they can successfully find the right fit for readers in their portfolio of titles. And I expect they will do exactly that.

“Meredith seems to be staking its magazine future on titles with narrower audiences, six-figure circulations, and some special superpower (such as a rabid fan base) that enables them to compete in a multimedia world,” Tree writes.

From my perspective, this isn’t the fall of a Goliath, but rather a strategic repositioning in any number of Davids. Our money’s always been on the niche.