Special Interest Publications Are Giving Shuttered Print Magazines a New Lease on Life

Consumers are drawn to SIPs, but it's a mixed bag for advertisers

Magazine covers from Eating Well, The New York Times and Seventeen.
Special interest publications allow publishing brands to remain relevant as print dollars continue to decline.
Eating Well, The New York Times, Seventeen

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, magazines are being reborn for the newsstands. As more magazines go dark and become digital-only, publishers are finding ways to keep those outlets alive in their original medium as special interest publications.

The big magazine publishing houses have been turning their shuttered print magazines into special interest publications. Known as SIPs, they are available on newsstands with fewer advertisements than typical weekly or monthly publications, but at up to triple the cost to consumers.

Hearst has taken this route with Seventeen, Condé Nast has plans to explore this with Glamour, and Meredith—which has been in this space for a while—has created SIPs for a number of its brands, including Coastal Living. As print ad dollars continue to decline and publishers look to shift more of the cost to consumers, SIPs serve as a way for the brand to maintain relevancy.

While SIPs aren’t anything new conceptually, publishers are using the tactic to remind consumers that their much-loved brands are still alive—at a cost. It also helps direct them to the brands’ websites, where a new take on the content lives on.

Publishers “need to keep the brand alive. They need to keep the name in the sight of the audience. Once it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind,” said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism. “Historically speaking, almost all the other magazines that have said they want to be digital go through hospice, and 18 months later they are dead.”

SIPs, therefore, serve as a visual and tactile reminder that these brands still exist, one that comes at a low editorial cost to its respective publisher, Husni said, because most of the issue’s content has already been produced and is just repackaged to fit the SIP model.

“The reason they want to keep the brand alive is much more than the ad dollars,” he added.

The cost, instead, is passed on to consumers. And in an environment in which consumers seem to be recognizing that they have to pay for their media, the model could prove successful, experts told Adweek.

Meredith has long experimented with SIPs, using them not only as a way to extend a brand it has decided to wind down in print (like Coastal Living), but to also launch new publications, including its dog-centric title Happy Paws. Even The New York Times is entering the space, committing to printing six SIPs in partnership with Meredith, starting with an issue about the summer of  ’69.

The model has turned into a reliable revenue stream for Meredith, which in the last fiscal year sold 17.8 million copies of SIPs at a cover price of $8.99 or more.

“We chose to keep them in print because the consumer never gave up on those brands. They love those brands, and they’re willing to pay for it,” said Doug Olson, president of Meredith Magazines and general manager of National Media Group at Meredith Corp.

SIPs also prove there’s still a place in the media ecosystem for physical magazines. “Consumers still like magazines, even if they’re not always buying them or paying for them in the same way,” said Medill’s Helen Gurley Brown magazine professor Patti Wolter.

Advertisers still like magazines, too, but luring brands can be challenging for SIPs, given their multimonth shelf life. “We don’t assume we’re going to get $1 of advertising,” Olson said. “Most of the specials we have at newsstands are very limited from an advertising perspective and are priced at what the consumer is willing to pay for.”

However, that extended time on newsstands can sometimes work to the advertiser’s advantage, in instances like holidays and other seasonally themed issues.

For example, Seventeen’s first special issue, published after Hearst decided to forego printing a regular magazine for subscribers, centered around going back to college. The special issue magazine, priced at $5.95, was more expensive than a regular Seventeen, which had cost $3.99, but the 92-page SIP featured ads from Maybelline and Fossil.

“As long as the brand is still relevant and hasn’t gone away in 20 years, people still want it and still miss it,” said John Wagner, group director, published media at PHD. “If you give the customers something they want, they’ll pay a higher price for it.”

This story first appeared in the Aug. 26, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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