Enthusiast mags thrive in niche markets

In the case of enthusiast magazines, less really is more. While the mindset of most kids entertainment providers is to present product that appeals to as wide a range of young consumers in their target demo as possible, enthusiast mags thrive...
July 1, 2001

In the case of enthusiast magazines, less really is more. While the mindset of most kids entertainment providers is to present product that appeals to as wide a range of young consumers in their target demo as possible, enthusiast mags thrive within the narrowest of windows. And because their core readerships are comprised predominantly of tween and teen boys-who seem genetically predisposed as a demo to embrace a favorite pastime to the point of obsession-these so-called `boy mags’ offer advertisers a unique range of marketing opportunities.

‘I think the advantage advertisers have with niche titles is that they can reach a very loyal male demographic, dedicated specifically to what the subject material is,’ says Jacqueline Blum, president of licensing, sales and marketing for emap USA, a Los Angeles-based publisher that owns over 600 titles and considers itself the king of niche.

Among emap’s more popular teen titles are Surfer (monthly,

one million circulation), Snowboarder (eights times annually, 690,000 circulation) and Skateboarder (six times annually, 492,000 circulation)-all of which cater to a predominantly male readership. ‘Boys tend to define themselves by their activities more than girls do,’ explains Karen Cahill, emap’s senior director of retail development, licensing, sales and marketing. Although Surfer skews slightly older than the other two, Cahill includes it as a boy mag, saying, ’22% of the readership is between 15 and 17.’

emap has found that marketing opportunities offered by these niche products expand well beyond the printed page. Says Blum: ‘We take the Snowboarder motor home tour to 20 of the biggest resort events in the U.S., providing opportunities for sampling, giveaways and banner set-ups. The advertiser can be on-site,’ putting their brands in a place where athletes draw crowds.

Although participation sports may seem to have an obvious appeal to boys, even less physical pursuits skew significantly male. The readership of Krause Publications’ collectible card game mag Scrye is over 90% male, as is the case with many of the publisher’s 50-plus collectible titles, including Toy Shop, Comics Buyers Guide and Sports Collectors Digest.

Iola, Wisconsin-based Scrye is published eight times a year with a circulation base of 70,000, although publisher Mark Williams notes that number spiked to 125,000 during the late 1999/early 2000 peak of the Pokémon phenomenon. Although the next big thing in collectibility has yet to present itself, Williams says titles like Scrye still offer distinct marketing opportunities for advertisers trying to reach young readers. ‘Marketing-wise, we try to add value by offering innovative things advertisers can’t do in other publications, such as play mats for different card games-something that has a utility value to readers.’ For example, Scrye put together a poster in cooperation with Wizkids for its line of Mage Knight miniatures. That issue shipped in May and resulted in a 3% circ increase through advance sales to the hobby trade. Because of the narrow focus of interest among Scrye’s readers, Williams says up to 75% of the mag’s advertising is direct response and typically comes from hobby shops.

Although establishing a brand in order to license it out has become an overriding business strategy throughout most of the kids entertainment universe, Williams seems reluctant to put Scrye on that path. Other than giving ‘free premiums for renewals, by and large we haven’t gotten into licensing our name. We would like to focus on what we do best, and that’s publishing magazines.’

Other publishers have shown no such hesitation. Because the appeal of enthusiast mags is their dedication to the minutiae of their focus, publishers have a unique platform from which to promote licensed product and extend their brands beyond their core readership. Although the enthusiast market has been a relatively well-kept secret, more publishers are now venturing into out-licensing in order to cash in on-and grow-their brands.

emap’s Karen Cahill says Skateboarder and Snowboarder have both featured on-pack promos including posters and sample music CDs relating to the sport because ‘we do see spikes with on-pack issues. It tends to give the issue a little more oomph on the newsstands.’ However, the mother lode is in video gaming out-licensing. Most of emap’s vid game titles fall under the Gravity Games grouping, including Skateboarding and BMX, both developed by Chicago, Illinois-based game studio Midway, which plans to ship its Gravity Games Bike: Street.Vert.Dirt game next spring on as-yet-unnamed platforms.

One advantage of licensing out an enthusiast title for a game is that by being sport-driven instead of personality-driven, the game can have a longer life. ‘The big battle we fight is when developers ask, `Why shouldn’t we put Tony Hawk in a game?’ because the athletes are all getting into licensing now,’ explains Cahill. ‘Well we’re about athletes, but in a bigger way-we support all athletes. So what can we bring that a single athlete can’t? One is we’re timeless. We know in all sports you might have somebody who’s hot this year and not next year, but that’s even truer in the action sports arena. So we bring more longevity to the table. And in one of our games, you can have 10 different athletes. The developer just has to go out and get the licenses for those individuals, then brand the whole thing Skateboarder.’

Toronto-based Paton Marketing Services’ hockey-centric title Rush was created with the express goal of cross-promoting another brand. Equipment manufacturer The Hockey Company originated the concept ‘and came to us to help them position their brand in an edgy, sort of fast-paced fashion,’ says president Beverly Paton, whose company also publishes PowerPlay, the official youth magazine of the National Hockey League and NHL Player’s Association. ‘More importantly, they wanted a credible environment to position their brand.’

With an estimated circulation of 500,000, Rush targets 14- to 18-year-olds. Although 80% of the readers are boys, Paton is hoping to reach girls interested in hockey as well, and notes that PowerPlay has seen 200% increases in girl readers.

Although there are ample opportunities for licensing, enthusiast mags find they also have to tread carefully. ‘We could do accessory type things like towels and beach chairs or surfer T-shirts, which are not going to upset the Quiksilvers of the world,’ comments emap’s Cahill. ‘But if we started designing board shorts and wetsuits, we’d be in trouble. And if you go into partnership with somebody, then you alienate everybody else.’

To maximize its opportunity without alienating its advertising base, emap, in conjunction with NBC, came up with Gravity Games in 1999. A week-long event and festival where top athletes participate in various action sports, Gravity Games drew a little over 200,000 attendees its first year. In 2000, 400,000 people attended the event, which drew a 1.6 overall rating that translated into a worldwide audience of approximately 220 million people, according to emap. This year’s event will be held September 1 to 9 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cahill says it’s no accident that the demo for emap’s licensed merchandise skews younger than the magazine readership, evidenced by its recent direct-to-retail partnership with Toys `R’ Us (see ‘Tight licensing market sees retailers don manufacturer’s mantle,’ KidScreen June 2001, page 74). ‘We’re going after the aspirational eight- to 12-year-olds with the Gravity Games program. When we went into licensed product, we didn’t want to make it for the 25-year-old athletes because we’d be stepping on the toes of our advertisers. We wanted to hit that entry-level market.’

Although emap’s basketball mag Slam sponsors branded skills camps where product is sold and a street ball competition in late summer, the publication has done surprisingly little out-licensing. With a readership of over two million, Slam covers all levels of basketball beyond the NBA, including college hoops, international basketball, the WNBA and, of special interest to its readers, street ball. Although the target demo for Slam is 18-plus, emap’s Blum says: ‘We absolutely get younger readers because of the subject matter.’ Blum blames the licensing lag on emap having only acquired the title last year from Peterson Publishing, but says she sees opportunities because ‘there’s such added value beyond the printed page. Slam is about the culture of basketball, too. With any sport, there’s a sensibility and culture-a code of dress, music and attitude, the lifestyle of the participants and players.’

And that understanding of enthusiast culture is the ultimate key to the magazines’-and their advertisers’-growing success.

Top 20 fave mages among teen males

Sports Illustrated 28%

ESPN 17%

GamePro 15%

Nintendo Power 13%

Electronic Gaming Magazine 10%

TransWorld Skateboarding/

Snowboarding 10%

Sports Illustrated For Kids 9%

Maxim 9%

The Source 8%

Rolling Stone 7%

Sport 7%

Vibe 6%

Inside Stuff 6%

Time 6%

Newsweek 5%

Entertainment Weekly 4%

People 4%

Slam 4%

Teen People 3%

Source: The TRU Study-Update Spring 2001/

Wave 37, Teenage Research Unlimited

Note: The TRU Study-Update Spring 2001/

Wave 37 surveyed 2,000 teens ages 12

to 19 in the U.S. during January and February 2001. TRU requires that magazines be on the market for more than one year in order to be included in the study.

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