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Increase Publication Frequency?

Posted on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 at 10:59 AM

I'm thinking of increasing our frequency to fend off a competitor. What are the pros and cons?

by William Dunkerley

Q. We publish a city magazine in our state's second largest city. Right now we come out quarterly. There is a publisher in the largest city whose publication has a greater page count, more advertising, and a monthly frequency. I've heard via the grapevine that they're eyeing a start-up in our city. That's got me worried. We've been lucky to have no competition here. My editor thinks we should go to monthly frequency before the competitor hits town. She says that we'd have to double our editorial staff, though, and the extra expense concerns me. What's your advice on how to sort this out?

A. I can understand your concern over a potential competitor moving into your territory that has greater resources than you do. I took a close look at the copies of your two latest issues that you sent. I analyzed the amount of advertising you have and your ad-edit ratio. Assuming you're doing a reasonable ad sales job, I don't think your market is large enough to support a monthly. Your margins seem to be somewhat tight already. The extra expense from going monthly could push you into the red.

At the same time, readers would probably benefit from a greater frequency. Some of your content pertains to upcoming events. Feature articles offer coverage of recent activities.

All that would benefit from the timeliness that increased frequency would bring. Greater frequency could also help bolster reader dependence on your publication. That could also engender greater loyalty should a competitor come along.

The challenge, of course, is how to accomplish all that without incurring a loss.

You are wise to be considering your options. Some readers could be tempted to gravitate to a new publication that's monthly. And your suspected potential competitor might have the strength to pull in some statewide advertisers that you don't have. The competitor would be in a position to offer a two-publication buy to advertisers.

All things considered, I think your best move would be to go from four to six issues per year. That would bring readers some benefit from increased frequency, but without all the added expense of going monthly.

But when I say "six issues," I'm not talking about an every-other-month schedule. Skip months when advertising is seasonally low and add the extra two issues at seasonal peaks. That way you'll maximize the return on your ad sales efforts.

How could you find out which months are which? Chart your competitor's ad counts over the last three years. That should give you a starting place for estimating what your own seasonal pattern might be. Just be sure to factor in whatever relevant differences might exist between the two in-state market areas.

This also might be the time to optimize your ad sales efforts. At the outset of this analysis, I made the assumption that "you're doing a reasonable ad sales job." That said, I rarely see magazines whose ad sales cannot be improved by employing more sophisticated strategies and by sharpening the skills of the ad sales team.

Not only will optimization produce more revenue, but it will put you in better shape to defend your market position should that competitor enter your market.

In fact, by increasing your frequency to six issues and by bolstering your ad sales position, you will be making the prospect of entry into your market less attractive to your competitor. It will cost that company more to wage a competition against a strengthened, entrenched magazine than it would against a quarterly with low margins.

Nonetheless, the competitor may still feel motivated to extend its brand into your city. In that case, there is something else you should consider: Be willing to be acquired.

With your added strength from a frequency increase and from stepped-up ad sales, you are making yourself a better candidate for acquisition. If the competitor is smart, it will realize that it might be far more cost-effective to enter your city through acquisition than by engaging in combat with an enhanced and successful existing magazine.

Be prepared to sell for a good price!

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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