AutoWeek Goes Bi-Weekly

Starting with this year’s January 12 issue, AutoWeek reduced its frequency to 24X, or bi-weekly.

No doubt a sign of the times, and to get the skinny I asked AutoWeek’s circ manager Lisa O’Brien to comment on the shift and what the future holds for the venerable pub. Following her remarks:

CPI: From 2003 – 2007 AW circulation dropped 26%, while 2007-2008 saw a 7.49% improvement. What factors contributed to this growth?

AW: 2008 was a year of growth for us. We have achieved our growth and exceeded our 275,000 average rate base through securing selective partnerships and by simply being smarter about how we did business. We reduced the amount of direct mail we sent out, yet have increased our response rates enough to maintain volume in that area. We have also become more efficient on the expense side, allowing us to reinvest in our circulation strategy.

CPI: Where does newsstand fit with AW’s circ plans?

AW:AutoWeek is a primarily subscription based publication. We do carry newsstand copies targeted to the Detroit area, as well as major metropolitan airports. With the newsstand industry in such flux, we do not plan to increase  our newsstand presence in the short term, but expansion will remain a consideration for the future.

CPI: Please comment on any particular success/misses with DM campaigns.

AW: A huge part of our direct mail program is testing – including; creative, pricing and list usage. Through testing, we have determined that unless it is editorially based, our audience doesn’t respond well to typical premiums such as hats and t-shirts.  Clearly and concisely promoting the benefits of an AutoWeek subscription, along with a focus on price have been key to our direct mail successes.

CPI: What success/misses are you seeing with web-based circ and renewal efforts?

AW: Earlier in the year, both web based and renewals were on the decline. We attribute this to several factors, but the most prominent being the state of the economy. We have gained significant ground in the past few months by increasing our subscription offer presence on our site and as with direct mail, continually testing to find that winning combination.

CPI: Please describe reasons for the shift to bi-weekly frequency.

AW: The reasons for the change in frequency were many, but all made with our readers in mind. We returned to our roots as a fortnightly publication and with that change were able to re-evaluate the way in which we deliver news and the ways in which we can make AutoWeek even betterfor our readers. The Internet has become a resource for up-to-the-minute news – by adapting to that new model, we have redesigned the print publication so that is provides an entirely different experience for our subscribers versus online readers.   

CPI: Any impact from advertisers?

AW: The impact on advertising had been positive primarily because advertiser’s ads have a longer “shelf-life”. In addition there is less pressure on advertiser’s budgets since it’s challenging to make an impact in  weekly vs. a fortnightly magazine.

CPI: Any impact from subscribers?

AW: As with any change, there will be always be those that are resistant, but the overwhelming majority have embraced the change and have come to appreciate the new look and increased content. The new format allows us to delve deeper into the stories we know our readers love, paired with better and increased imagery, features and layouts. We have not seen a significant amount of subscription cancellations as a result of the frequency change.

CPI: Please comment about the web’s impact on AutoWeek including readership and advertising.

AW: The web has provided AutoWeek with its greatest opportunity to expand its brand. This becomes more and more critical each day as more and more people turn to the web for their news information. As an authoritative car news and car buying information source, AutoWeek has been able to create new advertising revenue streams in this digital landscape.

CPI: What success/misses have you experienced from AW’s web initiatives?

AW: Most of our successes can be directly tied to a simplification of our media kit. Though we have expanded our offerings over the past two years, we continue to make them simple to understand for both our sales representatives in the field and the media planners and buyers that they call on. We’ve found that if a program is not simple to understand by all sides, it stands very little chance to bring in revenue.

CPI: Are you satisfied with current traffic and monetization efforts online?

AW: Although we are very happy that our audience continues to index off the charts in key demographic areas, we are never satisfied with our growth. We continue to work on the site to strengthen our organic search placements and we are constantly looking for partnership opportunities that could bring us additional exposure to a quality audience.

CPI: Are you employing other electronic forms of outreach including email newsletters, Facebook, Twitter?

AW: We have a very healthy opt-in e-newsletter subscription list that provides growing sponsorship advertising revenue. We are actively evaluating our presence on social media platforms to identify the most valuable opportunities for the AutoWeek brand. To date you will find AutoWeek content on social media portals such as  iTunes, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. This space is ever-changing and we’ll continue to move as the market dictates.

CPI: Overall, where do you see AutoWeek as a print entity in, say, five years?

AW: Steeped in over 50 years of heritage, AutoWeek will continue to exist as a print publication for the unforeseeable future. As with any brand, AutoWeekwill continue to evolve as the market and our audience deems necessary, but at our core we will continue to serve our readers needs and our passion; the latest in car news, motorsports, reviews, unbiased editorial and much more. We will continue to be America’s premier consumer automotive magazine.

In a subsequent discussion Lisa added the following comments and insights.

AW: It would be easy to say we went back to our fortnightly roots as a way to save money, but it would be wrong. This decision was made before the world’s economic markets fell through the floor in mid-September. We came to the decision, actually, mid-year. It happened around some beers and some talk about where we saw the direction of the publication heading for our second 50 years. Leading this conversation was KC. Did we get lucky and enjoy unexpected savings? Yes, but the underlying reason we changed was more thoughtful. In July 2009 we celebrated our 50th anniversary with an issue that did extraordinarily well in paging and revenue. For a year-and-a-half we planned, crafted and then executed that golden-anniversary issue. Not wanting to just have the celebration end there, we talked about ways to continue to leave our mark in the marketplace.

Overlay this conversation with a confluence of events that pointed us down the fortnightly path. We recognized people were consuming information at a breakneck pace and with various media. The Internet – we were the first consumer enthusiast magazine with a website in 1995 [ditto Mobilia Magazine - CPI] – was joined by info-sprouts like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. We saw our readership getting younger, yet remain loyal. And information they wanted was being delivered immediately. We witnessed the rise of video; as a company we committed to building an on-site studio for pod-casts and video-casts. We knew we were going to branch out in delivering information in ways that consumers wanted to get them.

All this allowed the platform to redefine and recreate the magazine as well.

Readers originally came to us for racing news. Remember, AutoWeek’s forebear was Competition Press. This was in the days when Wide World of Sports broadcast the Monaco Grand Prix a month after the fact.  But as we grew older, racing information became more prevalent and almost mainstream. Heck, you could read about NASCAR in large daily papers a couple of times a week. So delivering the latest breaking racing news each week was already being usurped elsewhere: on the web, video, radio, newspapers.

Still, AutoWeek’s competitive advantage with its magazine counterparts was timeliness. We were a news-driven publication, a news-driven company. AW was four-times as fast as a monthly and four times as potent with news and information. But what if we were ‘only twice as good, twice as strong’ as the monthlies and invested in the magazine production values and the quality, and we also threw in some so-called lifestyle items that car enthusiasts also enjoy? Thus the new AW grew….”

Straight from the source, and a forthright discussion of the planning stages at a leading publication. But let’s also address the Gorilla In The Room: the web. Production costs aren’t shrinking, readers are able to get hard news cheaper and faster online, and already crippled vendor ad budgets won’t stretch for weekly ads. One might therefore conclude that AW’s shift was forced, but better to head off the mudslide before quality suffered and ad pages got thin.

Old Cars Weekly faces similar challenges. Thanks to the wealth of online-based info and countless new sources for  products and services, where’s the financial legs to hold up a printed weekly?

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