Book-a-Zines Won’t Rescue the Mainline, But They Sure Will Help

I mentioned in a post last week that I was working on a special launch project for a client magazine publisher. Our team had put together a Book-a-Zine proposal and the goal was the release of two unique titles per year. I estimated that their gross revenues could add as much as 20% to the overall retail sales volume for just one of their titles.

Just what the heck is a Book-a-Zine? Mr. Magazine, Dr. Samir Husni of the University of Mississippi, and the International Periodical Distributors Association, have the best definitions. And I should point out, like so much in the newsstand distribution business, the definitions are a little pliable.

Dr. Husni defines a Book-a-Zine as a “line extension of a known or established brand in which, in most cases, better quality paper is being used and the majority of the content is recycled from older issues of that brand.” Check out this handy list of some of the Book-a-Zines he came across.

IPDA points out that unlike their parent titles, the Book-a-Zine model is more consumer driven and most titles carry little or no advertising. The profits come from the circulation.

Publishers can do this because while the title may use a better paper stock, the printing cost can still be lower because the print run is smaller. The distribution is more targeted and the sales efficiency is higher. The editorial cost will be lower too because most of editorial is repurposed.

However, as IPDA cautions, if you’re going to charge a higher cover price, you better deliver quality graphics, pictures, and make sure you deliver a solid reading experience. Don’t forget, you’re extending your brand. A slapped together product will diminish your brand.

To aid in the research for my project, I spent some time visiting local bookstores and came away with seventeen Book-a-Zine titles that had been released in the past 60 days. Back in the office, I discovered that thirteen of the titles had enough sales history where I could project out what they were selling nationally on the newsstand.

All by their lonesome, these titles, irregularly published (in other words, they were annuals, semi-annuals, quarterlies), were adding  something like $18 million in retail sales to our industry. Not huge, to be sure, but certainly not something to wrinkle your nose at.

This brand extension isn’t something to ignore. Major players such as Time Inc., RDA, Rodale, Hearst, Conde Nast, Meredith and Taunton Press are all involved in producing Book-a-Zines.

IPDA and Dr. Husni note that many of these titles are in the food and crafts category. But I also found titles in the music, sports and computing categories. The UK’s Imagine Publishing has created an wonderful line of computing oriented Book-a-Zines covering Macs, iPads, iPhones and products powered by the Android operating system. Recently, I bought one of these titles to help me out with my new Mac and I found the Book-a-Zine very helpful and worth every single dollar I spent. Who says you can’t sell computer magazines anymore?

Imagine's line of Mac and Android Book-a-Zines. They're worth every penny they cost.

My advice to any publisher is that if you have the content, take some time and work up a model to see if it makes sense. You have the product, so like it or not, you’re a brand. You have the readership, you have several different ways to deliver the content. Use it. Make some money from it.

But for goodness sakes, don’t lock it up in a vault. Or give it away for free.

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