Smithsonian Launches Travel-themed Quarterly Publication

Smithsonian Enterprises is betting that its readers will be happy to pay a premium price for a new magazine — and they’re most likely right. The publisher recently announced the launch of Smithsonian Journeys, a 128-page quarterly set to hit the newsstands in batches of 150,000. The retail price for this impressive travel-focused magazine will be an equally impressive $13.99 per issue.

The Triumph of the Bookazine

With this move, Smithsonian has essentially built a quarterly version of a product known as a bookazine. This book-length magazine, usually produced under the brand of a parent publication as a single issue, covers a specific “niche” topic as exhaustively as possible. A typical example is Handmade Style, a bookazine produced by Country Living Magazine and focused on “decorating inspiration for the country look.”

U.S. News seems to have something of a bookazine factory in operation, assembling annual issues that rank the best hospitals, colleges, and schools, as well as successful standalone products such as “Secrets of Your Brain” and “Amazing Animals.” You’ll almost never find these items on sale for less than $10 to $15 each, yet they’re outperforming the sales of many weekly magazines. In fact, the popularity of bookazines may actually be eroding the sales of more frequently published magazines, according to Freeport Press, leaving them as the single piece of good news in the current doldrums of the print magazine world.

More for Less — or More for More?

Why are consumers happily paying more for fewer issues? Several factors would seem to be in play here, among them:

Perceived specialness – Nothing stands out on a crowded newsstand quite so easily as an extra-thick, extra-glossy, “premium” publication. High production values, from compelling cover art and in-depth articles to luxurious paper, convey a sense that the reader is holding something truly special. A quarterly music publication called Pitchfork recently switched to such high-end production values with the idea that that readers will regard its issues as genuine collector’s items.

Comprehensiveness – As any marketer will tell you, the purer your audience, the more certain the sale. Annual, quarterly, or standalone issues that serve as comprehensive guides on a particular subject can pretty much set their own price. That’s because they do such a satisfying job of answering “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About (fill in the blank)” that readers who are passionate about the subject won’t think twice about making the purchase.

It’s worth noting that Smithsonian Enterprises is relying on advertising revenue only as a secondary income stream for this publication, expecting to make most of their money at the newsstand. But these and other publishers may find that advertisers are naturally more attracted to a premium publication — for the simple reason that higher-priced magazines are purchased by more affluent consumers with plenty of disposable income. The more precise focus of some of these “niche” bookazines also helps advertisers lock onto the purest possible target audience for their products and services. This allows the publishers to ask for higher ad rates, which in turn perpetuates the future of these thick, glossy tomes.

It looks like bigger is better after all when it comes to modern print periodicals in the eyes of consumers. So expect to see more and more bookazines ask for — and get — premium prices.

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