Acquisition Helps Woodworking Double Circulation (787 words)
by Kelly J. Andrews
The best way to build a house, cabinet or bookcase is from the bottom up. The editors of Today's Woodworker usually advocate starting with quality raw materials and building from scratch. But when the Medina, MN, publisher wanted to increase the circulation of its decade-old enthusiast magazine, the nail-by-nail and board-by-board approach wasn't fast enough.
Instead, Today's Woodworker took a rare short cut and joined the merger and acquisition trend within the direct marketing industry. Rockler Companies Inc., which owns the magazine, bought Woodworker's Journal from publishing giant Primedia Corp.
Rockler relaunched the combined magazine as Woodworker's Journal, the magazine for Today's Woodworker. Although the acquisition has doubled the magazine's circulation, the complications it has introduced will be familiar to other publishers who responded to Target Marketing's State of the Industry survey: how to handle incompatible databases, maintain renewal rates amid editorial change and prospect for subscribers in a niche market.
Making the Purchase
Before the acquisition, Rockler's magazine slightly trailed Primedia's Woodworker's Journal in circulation with about 100,000 subscribers each. However, each reached only a fraction of the combined million-plus subscribers of leaders WOOD, American Woodworker and Fine Woodworking.
When Primedia put out feelers about selling Woodworker's Journal in late 1997, Rockler investigated what it would cost via traditional direct mail to get within spitting distance of the top competitors. Buying a magazine is expensive, but then again, doubling circulation by any means is a tough task within a competitive, mature market. When a merge/purge of the two subscriber lists uncovered less than 20 percent overlap, the purchase made financial sense as a way to grow circulation.
Once Rockler's financial staff had hammered out a deal with Primedia, the hard part began: merging the two magazines without losing either readership. The issue was sensitive, says Editor-in-Chief Larry Stoiaken, because of high subscriber loyalty within the individualistic hobby market.