City and Regional Magazines Capitalize on Custom Publishing

City and regional magazine publishers continue to be nimble and optimistic in an atmosphere that remains anxious about the future of print advertising.

A survey conducted by Folio: last year illustrated these publishers’ skillful approach to revenue diversification: nearly two-thirds of respondents expressed concern over vulnerability to declining print advertising, yet 92 percent were confident about business growth.

Why? Business growth among city and regional publishers has evolved in many ways, encompassing digital and social marketing (for those with the requisite online traffic), events, and even retail. Possibly most significant, however, is growth in the form of ancillary print publications or custom publishing for clients.

When SagaCity Media Inc., based in Portland, Oregon, began publishing Portland Monthly 13 years ago, it set off a domino effect of sorts.

“We discovered that there were a lot of people in Seattle that loved what we were doing in Portland and wanted us to bring the same type of city magazine to the Seattle market. So, in quick order—about a year and a half later—we started Seattle Met,” says Jeff Adams, vice president of custom media at SagaCity. “We started pretty soon after that with our first customer, which was Travel Portland.”

SagaCity continues to service Travel Portland, a private non-profit destination marketing organization, highlighting the company’s vested interest in tourism publishing. Additional custom work includes the Asheville, North Carolina visitor guide, a program for the Houston Ballet, a Houston visitor guide, and smaller consumer magazines, such as Jewish in Seattle.

“It originally started with the entree of the city magazines that we do, they really resonate, have smart content, great design, and people are attracted to the magazine,” says Adams, who has overseen the company;s custom media division since 2009. “That was really our opening salvo in going after custom clients. You could almost see the light bulb go off with people when they realized, ‘Oh, I can have my own version of Seattle Met for my destination or my industry,’ and with the same smart content just focused on their destination.”

SagaCity saw the opportunity and seized it. The reputation and authority that city and regional publications still command among readers elevates publishers to capitalize on custom products outside of the magazine. While SagaCity publishes four city titles (totaling a readership of more than 1.3 million), four regional mountain titles and five wedding magazines, custom publishing accounts for roughly 25 to 30 percent of the company’s business, according to Adams.

Based on a publisher’s size and existing output, custom publishing may be absorbed into existing staff or managed by a separate team. Adams suggests that part of their success comes from having a dedicated team of 18 staffers across all four markets.

“Visit Seattle is one of our long-term clients; we produce about seven different pieces of a print for them as well as digital content. There’s just no way that someone could understand the needs of the client and be able to execute on [those needs] while they’re also doing 12 monthly magazines,” says Adams.
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