Canadian Magazine Industry News
4 April 2013, TORONTO
Q&A: SkyNews' Greg Keilty on niche publishing
To expand on this sentiment and talk about SkyNews' upcoming website overhaul, Keilty gave Masthead a ring while on break at the Walrus, where he helps out with newsstand circulation.
Masthead: You said in your acceptance speech that it’s good to be in niche publishing.
Greg Keilty: It's all about getting deep penetrations into small markets, and niche publishing lends itself to deep penetration. There are many positives: avid readers who are loyal and will usually pay a premium for quality editorial; advertisers who are often also deeply involved in the community and can appreciate both the quality of the content and the attachment of the readers.
In the past year, your newsstand sales in Canada have gone up 43%. What do you attribute that to?
Our art director, Janice McLean, did a redesign for our 100th issue, which was Nov/Dec 2011. So there were the hits for that issue, which was polybagged with a calendar. And then we had the Jan/Feb issue, which is a theme issue, which always does well—it was the 12 best celestial events of 2012. And then we also had the May/June issue, which coincided with the eclipse, and we polybagged eclipse glasses with it and made a special issue out of that. The Business Innovation grant program from Heritage Canada supported the 100th issue and the development of the calendar, and that was really helpful.
Was that your first time accessing that grant?
That was the first time. And we'd like to do more! It's a wonderful program. Their mandate is to help small or medium sized magazines strengthen their business model. It allows you to have access to capital that you otherwise wouldn't have. Sometimes that's hard to come by for small publishers.
We have to be selective, because special issues are kind of expensive. But with the redesign we've kind of tried to make our issues a little more thematic, like the Summer Issue rather than just the July/Aug issue, and our Sept/Oct issue is basically an Astro Photography issue every year now, with contest winners and so on. To the extent that we do try to make every issue special, we can do a lot more than that. We're just trying to max each issue out.
You’re obviously aiming for results, but were you surprised by the extent of last year’s success?
We were happily surprised. It would have been hard to do that 100th issue the way that we did it without having the Business Innovation grant support, but we did the May/June issue with the polybagged glasses with no support. That was straight out of our pockets. But by then, having had the success with the 100th issue, we felt pretty comfortable with it. We would have been surprised if it hadn't done well. We could charge more for those issues and that really does help. With newsstands, all your costs are upfront, and everything is done on commission. When you do sell well with a certain efficiency rate, it can be quite profitable.
Is there anything large publishers can learn from niche, and vice versa?
I don't know if there is. Looking at the strengths of niche publishing, it's the readers, who are very dedicated to the topic. SkyNews, for instance, 50% of all our revenues or more comes strictly from readers. That's a nice, stable way to do business. I guess if there's anything that other publishers can learn from niche, it's really to—to the extent that you can—build your business on revenues generated from readers. It can be pretty rough when advertising goes soft. The recession might affect readers and subscribers somewhat, but they tend to be pretty stable.
I also think that it would be mistake for publishers to walk away from the newsstand. I think it's a lot of work, but you can still do well on stands and find new readers. But, there are all sorts of other ways to reach new readers as well. We have to do a lot better with our website, for instance.
How important is social media for niche publishers?
It's probably extremely important. We're fairly new to it at SkyNews. We came to it late…and [so far] we've been able to do pretty fine without being involved. But we're hoping in 2013 to change that. We have an editor who tweets regularly, and we have a Facebook presence, but we haven't done much with it. It's something we want to turn to this year in a much bigger way, but the priority for us is to spend initially on our website, which we can probably get the most out of.
I thought Masthead’s Martin Seto stated very well why a strong website is the online priority. ‘Web browsing is still the number one way people will engage with your brand online.’
What are your plans for the website?
In 2013 we'll rebuild the website from the ground up, rethink the content, and rethink how to make room for advertisers. And then we'll go out and promote online using search engine marketing to drive people to the website. [As a niche magazine], because of the ability to identify people's interests, we tested search engine marketing in the past and we found that we can pretty easily reach people who are interested in what we're about.
It seems to be a good time for astronomy online. People like Col. Hadfield and Neil deGrasse Tyson are finding large audiences. Does that translate to more younger readers for you?
I honestly can't say. I expect it will. There's a lot of latent interest in that kind of thing. We noticed that whenever something related to astronomy or space exploration gets into the mainstream, like an eclipse or comets or so on, events like that seem to stir up [that latent interest] and we get the benefits. We see massive increases in web traffic. Interest spreads out into the larger population, and then retracts again, but it's like a tide, it leaves us more people on the beach.
I have a feeling that the next few years will be good, because there are so many ways for people to find that information, there's so much astronomy out there, so much more wonderful photography coming from the Hubble Space Telescope and from space exploration. The interest in our kind of content is increasing and the way of reaching those people online is a whole lot better than when you had to wait for them to be on a mailing list somewhere. Online media will definitely be a boon to us.
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