2009 State of the Scrapbook Magazine, Part 3: Alternative Business Models & The Long Tail

In part one and part two of this series, we talked in detail about the precarious health of the news stand scrapbook magazines. Bearing in mind that this is not necessarily due to the scrapbook market itself but to the overall decline in the publishing industry, it is a good idea to look beyond the news stand to other business models that are operating in the scrapbook publishing segment.

Several publishers are operating on a model of selling publications at a premium price point in bookstores and specialty stores. Most notable among these publishers are Northridge Media and Stampington & Company. Northridge is the publisher of titles such as Scrapbook Trends, Cards, Simply Handmade, Bead Trends and a line of idea books. Stampington publishes Somerset Memories, Somerset Digital Studio, Artful Blogging, Where Women Create, Somerset Studio, Stamper’s Sampler, Stamper’s Sampler Take Ten, and many more titles.

Most of the titles from both publishers have a cover price of at least $14.99, with the exception of Stamper’s Sampler at $7.99. Northridge offers discounts off the per-issue price for subscribing. Stampington sells subscriptions at the per-issue price.

A few important things differentiate these publishers from their news stand rivals. The primary area of difference is their content. Where the news stand publications have to try to appeal to a much wider range of skill level and interest, the premium publications are much more highly focused in their content. These publications focus on offering a lot of one kind of content. Northridge Media’s Cards title offers nothing but page after page of large examples of cards for inspiring card makers. There are no product galleries, no text-filled articles. Scrapbook Trends usually consists completely of single-page scrapbook layouts. Stamper’s Sampler Take Ten is completely cards (with an occasional exception) that are mostly vintage in style.

Although both Cards and Take Ten both focus exclusively on cards, they are so highly focused that the cards they contain even have a distinct signature style in both publications. This is in direct contrast to the news stand publications, where the style of the content tends to be very diverse in an attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience.

Another important difference between the news stand and premium publications is their look-and-feel. Both of the premium publishers I cited above are producing magazines on heavier weight papers that provide a richer feel in the hand than their less expensive news stand counterparts. While the weight of the paper may seem unimportant, it is one important component in making the customer feel like they are receiving a premium product for the premium price. The magazines’ design also contributes to the premium impression. Stampington uses an extremely clean white layout that resembles an artist’s portfolio. Northridge goes the opposite direction with its design, creating a lush feel by using elaborate photo sets (often with rich colors) as backgrounds for its published items.

Another part of the premium feeling of the Stampington and Northridge titles is the relatively low amount of advertising content and its arrangement concentrated in the front and rear of the publications. This makes the publications feel more similar to the idea books from publishers like Creating Keepsakes and F + W than like a periodical, and also helps sell the higher price point to consumers. Scrapbook Trends has been maintaining a paid advertising percentage around 20% in 2009. Stamper’s Sampler Take Ten has been publishing the past two years with an average of around 3% paid advertising per issue.

How do these magazines survive with such minimal advertising compared to their news stand counterparts? It is because their business model is entirely different – they aren’t intended to get their revenue as heavily from advertising. Instead they get their revenue largely from their cover price (rarely discounted for subscribers) and then supplement it with ad sales. In the case of Stampington, there is also heavy focus on promoting the company’s own line of stamps and artist papers that are sold in the company’s online store.

How can these magazines still reach an audience with such focused content? Stamper’s Sampler June/July 2009 issue only circulated 19,000 copies. Stamper’s Sampler Take Ten circulated just over 27,000 copies of its Summer 2009 issue. They are only intended to appeal to a small niche market of readers – a very similar approach to that of the content online that is largely killing the print publishers on the news stand. They have carved out a select niche market and focus with precision on serving up content tailored closely to that smaller market, instead of having to use the scattershot approach required for content aimed at serving a larger group. The larger your audience, the harder it is to make everyone happy. The premium publishers have focused on building smaller, extremely loyal audiences who are willing to pay a premium cover price to get exactly what they want in the publication.

If a scrapbook magazine can survive by being high-priced, how about at the other extreme – by being free? Canadian magazine Scrapbook & Cards Today is operating on a very web 2.0 model of free distribution to consumers. In a recent phone interview, founder and publisher Catherine Tachdjian explained to me how that works.

Scrapbook & Cards Today is a quarterly 68-page publication that is distributed through approximately 200 independent stores. The stores must be advertisers in the magazine’s store directory to distribute the magazine. They receive some free copies as part of their advertising package, and may also purchase additional copies if they wish. Stores may not sell the issues they distribute, but the copies may be offered as an incentive with a purchase, as a benefit for club members, or as part of a kit.

For readers who don’t have a distributing store near them, the magazine is also distributed free via the magazine’s website in PDF form.

How does this work financially? Scrapbook & Cards Today is maintaining a healthy 40% ad content. Tachdjian says that because of the distribution method used by the magazine, many manufacturers view advertising in her publication as a store outreach project instead of as advertising, which helps Scrapbook & Cards Today sell their ad space.

Despite the disparity in their price points, the premium magazines and Scrapbook & Cards Today actually have a surprising amount in common that contributes to their success:

  • the narrow focus of their content on a specific niche
  • extremely lean & efficient staffing models
  • relationships with a well-known group of ongoing contributors
  • a luxury feel to their materials and layout

All of this, put together with the recent statistics of the news stand publications, says a lot about the future of publishing in the scrapbook industry. Print publications across all industries are facing challenging times. Those challenges, brought about by the mass consumption of internet content, are not going away. In dealing with these challenges, the mass-market news stand publications are actually chasing the so-called “long tail” magazines in their fight for survival. (If you are unfamiliar with the concept of the “long tail”, you should read the excellent book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. It is very pertinent to marketing in a niche like scrapbooking.)

While it might seem that the larger circulation news stand magazines have more ground to give in the battle for survival than the smaller magazines do, their audiences are not as loyal and their business model requires massive circulation numbers to survive. Their business model is dependent on securing large amounts of advertising, at a time when advertisers (not just in scrapbooking) are fleeing the print market in favor of highly targeted online campaigns. The smaller magazines are less dependent on advertising, and they can offer a more highly targeted audience to the advertisers they do need to attract.

The past was mass market, appealing to everyone and selling as many copies as possible. The future of scrapbook print publishing is smaller: more targeted, more lean, and more premium. The internet is, basically, going to turn print into a luxury experience.

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