Hearst, Meredith Try Web-to-Print Titles

Is reverse publishing becoming a growing trend for magazines? Normally, magazines launch Web sites from print brands. But Hearst is going in the opposite direction with the launch of Light & Delish, a bookazine based on content from Delish, a food site it launched in 2008 with MSN.

Meredith, meanwhile, is moving forward with a magazine it tested last year based on Mixing Bowl, an online social network it built around food. Meredith published a second issue of Mixing Bowl.com magazine last week and plans to do another this year while exploring other such affinity-based titles.

In Hearst’s case, Light & Delish will hit stores Feb. 2 with a distribution of 300,000. Priced at a $9.99 cover price, the bookazine is meant to be consumer driven, although it will carry three paid ads from Kraft, which was a launch sponsor of Delish.

Light & Delish is one of several bookazines the company plans to create this year as it looks for low-cost ways to serve up new revenue. Hearst published three bookazines in 2009, based on Good Housekeeping and Country Living, and expects to do at least four this year based on its existing magazines and Web-only brands, which include RealBeauty.com, RealAge.com and Kaboodle.com. Hearst also hopes to turn Light & Delish into a series.

At a time when it’s hard to whip up excitement for magazine advertising, it’s fitting that Hearst sees print as a way to feed its online growth rather than the other way around. Just a year after launch, Delish ranked No. 9 among food sites with 3.6 million unique visitors in December 2009, per Nielsen Online, and the company is eager to fuel that growth.

Meanwhile, Hearst saw double-digit ad-page declines last year across its magazines like O, the Oprah Magazine; Harper’s Bazaar; and Cosmopolitan. The bookazine also is seen as a way to promote Hearst’s other brands like Good Housekeeping and Country Living, where many of the publication’s recipes come from.

In a lean economy, the low production cost of such publications is also part of their appeal. Mixing Bowl.com drew its content from user-submitted recipes on the site, which launched in January 2009, and was able to make a profit on the first issue, despite the absence of ad support.

“This is really rewarding the community members and celebrating them and saying, ‘Your recipes are appearing in a magazine,’” said Dan Hickey, vp of digital content for Meredith.
Light & Delish’s recipes come from Delish, whose content is mainly repurposed from other Hearst brands. “It’s a way to repackage content in a way that’s meaningful to the reader,” said Susan Schulz, who is overseeing the bookazine effort as special projects editor for Hearst. “We’re sitting on such great content. We’ve found success and repurposing it on the Web, and there are other ways to repurpose it. We’re always looking for revenue streams—and low-cost revenue streams.”

Jeff Fischer, senior vp, managing director of the print activation group at Universal McCann, said the success of ESPN Magazine, which started as a nonprint brand, bodes well for the approach. “In a digital age, it makes a lot of sense for a digital brand to be a launch pad for a print spinoff,” he said.

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