An audience with the Pope: The story behind Mondadori’s Il Mio Papa magazine

With a dedicated and loyal readership, plenty of advertising appeal and easily obtainable audience data and insight, specialist-interest titles have long held advantages in the magazine media industry.

Take these attributes and add into the mix an estimated potential audience of 1.2bn Roman Catholics – and an Italian-based weekly magazine dedicated the activities, meetings, speeches and visits of the Pope isn’t quite as niche as it might initially sound.

Il Mio Papa (My Pope), was launched recently by Mondadori, with a total print run in the first month of three million copies. The magazine was pitched at launch as having “a positive and popular approach with an easy-to-read, colourful and engaging layout, as well as moving photographic images”.

“The magazine will report on the week of the head of the Catholic church – his meetings, pronouncements, engagements and audiences (in particular the Angelus and the Wednesday general audience) – paying special attention to the message of change that characterises the pontificate of Pope Francis,” the publisher added. “There will also be articles on the people and facts that inspire his work and words, as well as smaller items of curiosity and images that show the great simplicity of the Holy Father in the most ordinary daily events.”

Each week, a space will also be dedicated to a worthwhile ‘ONLUS’, (a non-profit charitable organisation), highlighting that organisation’s commitment and mission with a view to attracting support – and every issue features the next instalment of the ‘illustrated history of the life of Pope Francis’, published in the form of a pull-out insert to be collected.

The magazine was the brainchild of Aldo Vitali, the leading Italian TV Editor. Sandra Gotelli, international publisher and head of licensing and syndication at Mondadori International Business, says it was an idea they had toyed with for some time.

“Aldo had noticed many times how much interest there was in Pope Francis as a person and his words and messages,” she says. “Aldo wanted to relay those in a simple, deep and warm way. He believed that it would be a strong idea to propose a magazine that offers a complete view of the Pope in a friendly and approachable, yet respectful way.

“Aldo is a great editor who has the capacity to interest people – transforming the idea into a weekly appointment of interesting and easy reading.”

So how do you gather content for publication dedicated to the activities of a figure who is so difficult to access?

“The content comes from following Pope Francis’s life,” explains Gotelli. “In addition, we add the voices of believers and there is a strong and productive cooperation with the Vatican. The mission is to narrate the week of the Head of the Church.

Il Mio Papa homepage ()

“We don’t see the content creation and production of the magazine as a challenge – rather about striking a balance between commenting on the Pope while at the same time representing his closeness to the readers. It is a great responsibility.”

Word has it that the publication has created such a stir with Pope Francis that he has been known, on occasion, to enter the streets of Rome to acquire a copy. Gotelli suggests such stories say as much about the character of Pope Francis as they do about the appeal of the publication, but nonetheless Il Mio Papa’s acceptance by the Vatican offers serious credentials.

“Yes, that story is true,” Gotelli says. “The simplicity of the Pope is also seen in these acts. He even asked for some back issues in order to complete his collection and he always wants a copy of Il Mio Papa in the Santa Marta house, where he lives and where Church dignitaries stay during their visits to the Vatican.

“Pope Francis even informed the editor about his interest in our magazine and his desire to see it in other languages around the world.”

With 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world that global aspect is certainly something that resonates with Gotelli.

“We operate through social media, on the web, and we have a digital version as well,” she says. “The Church has a global message and, as the Pope himself is doing, we use all tools available.”

One of those tools is the licensing of the product to other countries. Mondadori recently signed a licensing deal with Central-American publisher Grupo Cerca to launch seven issues across the countries in which it operates: Panamá, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Dominican Republic.

Each issue will include regional and local content, resulting in seven different editions totalling a print run of 70,000 copies – with a cover price around $3.30.

Marcelo Burman, president and CEO of Grupo Cerca, says: “It’s an honour for us to be part of the network that Mondadori is developing for this magazine, which has already been launched in Germany, Poland, Brazil and other countries. We will develop not only the magazine but also the complete platform, with digital and mobile properties, to create a complete experience for our audience.

“We are also looking at launching in Mexico shortly,” he adds. “The model is not an ad-based one. It is based on circulation, and the specialist nature of the publication, together with a big audience and a clear topic, is what appeals. Of course, distribution is very important for us. Operating across seven countries makes it difficult for us to have an efficient distribution model, so we have a distribution strategy in each country through which we are placing the magazine in specialist stores and at other points of purchase.

“It is a massive magazine and we have to do it.”

While Burman sees clear opportunities for expansion across his region, it is clear Gotelli also sees further opportunities to expand the brand. The first issue of Il Mio Papa included an extensive feature celebrating the anniversary of Papacy, for instance, which was also released in a special DVD and as a supplement to the magazine the following week.

And with 277 million Roman Catholics in Europe alone, it certainly appears the audience is in place for further developments. 

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