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.
The new magazine, which follows the editorial approach of the old Rockler Today's Woodworker but retains the better-known Woodworker's Journal name, would fulfill any copies remaining on Primedia subscriptions on a one-to-one basis. To achieve this, the magazine needed to combine the two incompatible databases, a tricky problem echoing the findings of the State of the Industry survey, in which 39.8 percent of respondents cited data management as a top internal challenge for their companies.
Prior to acquiring Primedia's woodworking list, the magazine staff handled the data itself using Quick Fill. Although the fulfillment software works well for small magazines, when Today's Woodworker's circulation grew beyond 100,000, it pushed the bounds of the program. The acquisition of Woodworker's Journal kicked the total circulation over 200,000, necessitating outsourced data management and fulfillment.
The new magazine bid out the job to database companies, including Neodata (now Centrobe), which had handled Woodworker's Journal data for Primedia. Today Centrobe handles the Woodworker's Journal database, and circulation, fulfillment and renewal efforts have progressed smoothly.
New Marketing Methods
Like 24.2 percent of the State of the Industry respondents, Woodworker's Journal relies on direct mail to sell subscriptions. To combat the list fatigue that occurs when specialty magazines re-mail to the same lists, the magazine is running a test with American Family Publishers and using the relaunch to introduce itself to new subscribers.
To do this, Woodworker's Journal is testing two existing controls in order to find a new winner. The old Today's Woodworker double postcard has a soft offer and a book premium, and, says Stoiaken, it's "a little shorter on the front end and stronger on the back end," than the Primedia piece. The old Primedia piece offers a sweepstakes entry, and as you'd expect, the front end response is better. Overall, Stoiaken says, "They're neck and neck."
Another medium that's been successful for Woodworker's Journal is the Internet. The magazine has had a Web site for four years, delivering the same soft offer as the direct mail pieces.
"It's the same language, the same terms," says Stoiaken. "We've found that on the back end, the Internet is just as good as any control we've ever had."
While the revenues generated by the Web site are modest, these small profits put Woodworker's Journal in the top half of State of the Industry respondents with an Internet presence, only 41.4 percent of whom are making money from their Web sites. Consequently, Stoiaken plans to expand editorial content and sell ancillary products, such as individual woodworking plans, online.
"We're careful not to go too fast on the Web," he says. "We wanted a presence, but we didn't want to build it up so much that it hurt the bottom line. Our hope and vision is that the Web will give us visibility where our traditional efforts have not."