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The continued power of special interest media – across all platforms

The benefits of special-interest titles have long been known. And the opportunities being served up by digital platforms and 360-degree strategies are enhancing their potential even further…

Here Jon Watkins re-caps conversations around a running theme that will again feature at the 41st FIPP World Congress, taking place from 9-11 October in London this year.  

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Special interest media has always had a reputation for delivering loyal, engaged and sustainable audiences.  

That dedicated readership, combined with plenty of advertising appeal and easily obtainable audience data and insight, means special interest brands provide plenty of advantages in the magazine media industry.

Speaking in the lead-up to the last FIPP World Congress in Toronto in 2015, Ian Levy, CEO of Burda Brazil and Burda Iberia, home to a number of special interest titles including Burda Style, agreed. “It is true that magazine media targeting verticals are very resilient and growing. By their very nature, the more ‘special interest’ they are and the more engaged and loyal their readers are,” he said at the time.

Of course, as with all traditional magazines, special interest titles have had to adapt in recent years, to consider the opportunities provided by a multi-platform approach – namely, how that can further enhance their audience’s ‘experience’.

Levy added in his Congress interview: “Key is, of course, that your audience expects to get the content they love across a multitude of platforms and formats. Think about it in this way: if you are a wine enthusiast and read a wine magazine, your relationship with the topic does not end at the last page of the magazine. You probably want to taste the wines you read about; see how they harmonise with different dishes; learn as much as possible about the wines; purchase wines in a convenient, practical way; and travel to specific wine regions to further pursue your love of wines.”

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Speaking on the same subject, Frances Evans, senior international publishing leader at Burda International, added that titles targeting verticals are in fact the perfect fit multi-platform strategies – and that the opportunities to expand stretch beyond content platforms.

“Special interest titles definitely make it easier to transition because you know much more quickly what the consumer is doing and what they are searching for,” she said. “Knowledgeable content teams and the use of data help us develop products in many different fields – many easily identifiable touch points in the value chain.

“In the case of Burda Style, this ranges from co-operations with fabric companies, e-learning businesses, travel companies and trade fair companies – wherever we find the right type of product to meet an unmet consumer need.” 

Success in numbers

Other special interest titles have also moved successfully to multi-platform strategies – enhancing the audience experience across platforms.

One such company is Immediate Media, which describes itself as ‘The special interest content and platform company’.

All three of its cross-stitch publications, The World of Cross Stitching, Cross Stitch Crazy and Cross Stitch Gold – all launched between 1997 and 2000, are available in print. However, they now also all have significant multi-platform strategies driving audience engagement and enhancing the audience experience.

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A website, cross-stitching.com, provides the platform for a thriving community of thousands of stitchers, who log on daily to chat in a forum, download free charts, get a glimpse of new issues, enter competitions, and find expert help.

The brand’s social media audiences are also growing, as Immediate takes advantage of Facebook (Crazy over 37K, World over 146K) and Twitter (Crazy over 4.5K, World over 2.5K). Crazy and World can be found on Pinterest too.

Regular email campaigns go out to more that 70,000 audience members, and all print content is also available through digital editions.

The rise of non-print special interest

Of course, not all special interest brands started out as print products, and an increasing number are delivering strong multi-platform experiences from a non-print start.

Business Insider, e-Marketer, e-Consultancy, Refinery29, Skift, MarketingProfs and The Business of Fashion all started as digital products and now have multi-platform strategies that are thriving. After all, it is often to the digital and social sides of the strategy that the best ‘experience’ aspects can be created.

National Geographic is an example of that. Although it has a very successful print product, it’s best-known for its TV brand and is enhancing the audience experience across digital platforms.

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Its television joint venture with Fox is still its biggest relationship, reaching half-a-billion households around the world through up to three channels, depending on where you live. But it’s also seeing strong growth in social, with Facebook and Twitter – and with Instagram, where it is the number one brand. 

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Speaking to FIPP before the last FIPP World Congress, National Geographic Society president and CEO Gary Knell explained: “The platforms are much more joined up now and something that I truly believe in is a 360 approach. Taking all these big streams of content together and blowing them out across all our platforms just gives us a much better chance of success in terms of making an impact on readers or viewers. It makes sure people really engage with our content, compared with just a one-off interaction with an article or a television show. In the past we’ve maybe been a little bit too siloed. What we’re trying to do now is to look at these content platforms together and see how they can work together.”

Print innovation adds another strand

While special interest titles are clearly innovating by moving to multi-platform approaches, others are seizing ways to drive a better audience experience through other innovations, including print.

One example is the trend, particularly among fashion-focused special interest titles, to launch special-edition ‘bookazines’. 

As newsstand sales and advertising revenues for traditional magazines continue to decline, publishers are getting more creative with high-margin print products that feel like premium magazines, mining their archives for photographs and articles that may have already been published in a monthly edition to create fresh, collectible issues devised with consumers – and brand advertisers – in mind.

“It’s now primarily a source of revenue,” Leah McLaughlin, director of special interest publishing at Condé Nast said recently. “We produce publications that are specifically for consumers, so on really niche topics, generally around a single personality or a single cultural event.”

The bigger win for special interest publishers, however, clearly lies with moving to fully integrated, multi-platform strategies – calling on latest technological developments to build an even stronger community than ever before.

As Levy told FIPP.com: “Technology today helps publishers to easily engage communities around special interests, using social media and other networks, transforming a passive audience into an active community. This community can be served across several platforms. As with the wine example, it creates an ecosystem of users and content, which in turn presents a major opportunity for wine marketers to communicate and market their products to this ecosystem. For the content provider, the key to monetisation of this ecosystem lies in creating and refining their platforms, creating several media solutions to address and satisfy their marketers’ needs. 

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