Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Golden Opportunity?

So, I was chatting with some good friends over the weekend about a progressive Jewish woman's magazine that shall go unnamed for the time being. Some background on the magazine: It's a quarterly magazine that just celebrated its 30th anniversary, and when it first came out in 1976, it was widely hailed as a landmark in modern Jewish feminism and for it's independent and edgy perspective. Today, according to a recent article I read about it, the magazine has a subscriber base of about 10,000 and it has a source of independent financing that keeps it afloat. One year's subscription costs about $25. By multiplying 10K by $25 per subscriber, that's $250,000 in subscriber revenues. I have no idea what advertising income is, but I'm going to venture that at $1200 for a full page ad, total ad sales are in the vicinity of $150,000. (That adds up to $400K in annual revenues).

I don't know how those numbers compare to previous years, but I'm pretty sure that the magazine's subscriber base has declined in the last decade or so compared to its first 20 years. The article I read about the magazine was positive about it, but questioned whether it's still relevant to it's target audience.

I personally think this magazine is a great magazine. I'm not a subscriber, but I usually manage to get a look at each issue through friends. Since I first got my mom a subscription to this magazine for her birthday two years ago, I can't help playing the "what if" game in my mind. By that of course I mean, "what if I came out of retirement from my successful career as a business person, bought the magazine and took charge of it?" Disclaimer: Before anybody connected to the magazine gets wind of this post, this idea is purely in my imagination. On my student budget I'm definitely not buying out any magazines, much less splurging on a nice lunch. (Or a semi-decent lunch for that matter.) I'm still curious though, could I turn the magazine into a profitable investment, and bring about the exponential increase in the subscriber base that I think it deserves?

I'm interested in exploring the idea, partly because I don't think of myself as much of a creative entrepeneur so I don't up with good ideas that often, and because I really think this has potential even though I don't see it ever coming to fruition anytime soon. I'm also interested in exploring the idea because I like considering about what it would actually take to successfully run this business, whether it be this particular magazine or any other.

Based on the National Jewish Population Survey conducted by the United Jewish Communities a few years ago, there are about 2.1 million adult women in the US today. That means the magazine has a subscriber base of 0.5% of its potential audience. Most importantly, it also means that a lot of the "low hanging fruit", i.e., the easy subscriber targets, has yet to be picked. (Note: "low hanging fruit" is a business term and has nothing to do with the female anatomy. Not that I would suspect that any readers were thinking that anyway).

So, what would it take to succeed?

Of course there's always the first issue of buying the magazine. But I don't really have to worry so much about that because this is all hypothetical anyway. Jared Kushner bought the New York Observer for $10M in 2006 and that has a subscriber base of $50,000. So, let's assume that I could get the magazine for around $1.5M-$2M, financing to be determined at a later date.

But moving along to the more important issues:

The first way to increase the subscriber base is to make changes to the magazine itself:
-I would change the content in a few ways. For example, one thing I would do is create a section modeled after all the gossip magazines, that publishes juicy tidbits of gossip on Jewish celebrities. (Almost every woman I know is a closeted US Weekly or People Magazine reader.) I would also incorporate more provocative articles. The magazine is no longer as edgy as it used to be and a lot of the topics that are presented in the magazine today might have controversial headlines but are followed by articles that leave everyone with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, instead of sparking the heated debates that they used to. Arguably, it's harder to be edgy today than it was 30 years ago because naturally, what seemed edgy then is tame by comparison today but I think it's always possible to raise eyebrows.

-I would change the formatting to make it a more dynamic cover and to give it a more readable and dynamic font.

-The magazine has tried to build a web presence by having a blog, but my impression overall is that the magazine's web site overall has only minimal functionality and that it's blog doesn't have such a wide readership. I would try to improve the magazine's ability to bring in subscribers through the web by overhauling the web site, making it more functional, revamping the blog, bringing in Jewish women personalities to have "chat sessions" online with the magazine's readers, and possibly by making some of the articles available online for free (some already are available for free, but they have to be downloaded as pdf files).

-I would give some serious thought about the target audience that the magazine is trying to reach because any good business has to know who its best audience is. The idea of a progressive Jewish woman exists today in a very fragmented market. Is a progressive woman modern Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform? Can the magazine target both middle-aged women and 20-something year olds? What about grandmothers? Without doing any market research, I think the magazine could focus on 20-somethings and young mothers without suffering from a confused identity. But beyond that, if it starts mixing up ages and denominations it might start getting stuck because what's considered progressive for an Orthodox woman could be old-school for a Reform woman.

-I'd also do a market survey to figure out what the competition is doing right and what it's doing wrong. There are a bunch of other publications in the market that are potential competitors, including Hadassah Magazine and, for the younger women, Heeb Magazine.

-I'd expand the distribution channels through which the magazine is sold. My impression is that right now the magazine sells through word of mouth and through women's conferences. That's not enough. What about partnering with Jdate, so that any woman who signs up for Jdate automatically gets the most recent issue of the magazine? Or getting university Hillels to keep copies of the magazine in their respective buildings? The magazine could also sponsor sisterhood clubs at synagogues (they're a common feature at many synagogues of all denominations) so that everyone knows the name. They could also sponsor an annual concert featuring women (Jewish & non-Jewish perhaps) to get its name out. Obviously some of these ideas require spending money, but the idea is to assume the cost in order to generate more than enough in subscriber and advertisement revenues.

-Lastly, I'd consider expanding its product line to creating a parallel progressive men's magazine. A progressive men's magazine would have a ton to write about, faces less competition in the market and would naturally feed off the original women's magazine.

Referring back to Jared Kushner - he bought the New York Observer at the tender age of 25, and that's a weekly newspaper. In addition to running the newspaper, he's also in the middle of completing a JD-MBA dual degree at NYU. I'm 28, finishing up only one degree, and this magazine is a quarterly publication. If Jared Kushner can handle it, I think I could too. And still possibly keep my real job on the side. (Of course, there's the small fact that Jared's a millionaire many times over thanks to his father's media & real estate business.)

All in all, I'd say buying this still-unnamed magazine is a golden investment opportunity. Now I'm going to bed to keep dreaming about it.

6 Comments:

At 4/08/2007 12:52 PM, Anonymous Mom said...

I don't know about HEEB (I guess I'm in the wrong age group), but Hadassah magazine is connected to your organizational membership - therefore automatically "selling" lots more copies. Would Jared Kushner's parents be interested in adopting, at least for business purposes, another entrepreneur-spirited son?

 
At 4/08/2007 3:00 PM, Blogger Ariel Glasner said...

Jared Kushner's father is in jail, so I think the answer is no.

 
At 4/10/2007 4:35 PM, Blogger ew said...

i heart this mag too, ariel. it's one of a very few that i actually read cover-to-cover and that in my mind probably successfully appeals to a broad (in age and denomination) swath of progressive jewish women. beyond your observations, the mag's shallow financial base is further suggested by the fact that they list all of their recent contributors beyond like $100. that is kind of temple-ish, not major publication-ish, ya know?

 
At 4/13/2007 5:07 PM, Blogger burrito eater said...

I don't know about the magazine you're talking about, but I do know that a friend of mine just made jewcy.com which is maybe a little edgier than your magazine. anyway, an interesting read all the same.

 
At 4/15/2007 8:02 PM, Blogger Ariel Glasner said...

Jewcy is about 400 times edgier, and would have some good pointers for the mag I'm talking about. Though I have to say my eyes were a little overloaded by everything they got going on their home page.

 
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