Williams-Sonoma Cooks up Taste Magazine

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Weldon Owen Publishing -- which last month launched a food, wine, travel and entertainment magazine with upscale cooking supplies cataloger Williams-Sonoma -- hopes to use the cooking cataloger's database to ramp up its circulation.

The circulation rate base for the magazine, called Williams-Sonoma Taste, is 125,000. However, John Owen, Taste's publisher and CEO of Weldon Owen, San Francisco, said he's hoping for a circulation of at least 200,000 for the first issue that was mailed in late October. Owen said the Williams-Sonoma database contains 16 million customers.

Approximately 13.7 million catalogs are expected to be mailed before Christmas with a bound-in enclosure offering magazine subscriptions.

Almost 4 million Williams-Sonoma catalogs were dropped on Nov. 7 with a gatefold on the front cover promoting magazine subscriptions.

Weldon Owen created a mail piece that will be sent to customers with their Williams-Sonoma purchases. Weldon Owen also sent an e-mail promoting the magazine to approximately 165,000 Williams-Sonoma customers earlier this month and plans to send "several thousand" additional e-mails throughout November, according to Owen.

The cataloger is using its call centers to upsell to customers who place orders there.

The magazine's initial target demographic is females with a household income of at least $75,000. The goal is to have a subscriber base whose household income is approximately $100,000, Owen said.

"The current database of Williams-Sonoma skews about 71 percent women, and we think that the magazine will at least be that," said Owen, who expects that the magazine's female subscriber base could be as high as 80 percent.

Weldon Owen intends to publish the magazine on a quarterly basis for the first year and it expects to go bimonthly after that.

The premier Holiday 2000 issue includes recipes for holiday pastries and a feature on renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

The magazine will not be used as a Williams-Sonoma selling tool, although its editorial does feature some products from the merchant's repertoire.

Other products highlighted in the first issue's editorial are sold by Pottery Barn, which is owned by Williams-Sonoma, Macy's, Sur la Table, IKEA and Restoration Hardware. The first issue includes ads from Mercedes-Benz and Absolut Vodka.

Owen thinks the magazine is differentiated from the competition -- like Gourmet, for example -- in that it's oversized and has exceptional photography.

"Of course, there's a lot of competition in this space," he said. "We have the advantage of starting off with a blank canvas and being able to create a magazine that we think is really relevant for this decade that we're in ... [for] the woman who's cooking today."

A yearly subscription costs $20. Consumers can buy single copies of Taste for $5 in Williams-Sonoma's 205 retail stores. They also can subscribe to the magazine in stores and receive their first issue there.

"I don't think there's any magazine that you can do that with," Owen said. "Something like 20 percent of all the sales we're making, people are subscribing in the stores."

The magazine also is sold in Barnes & Noble and Borders locations as well as on newsstands. Owen hopes that at least 60 percent of magazines will be sold via subscription.

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