In Circulation: Knowledge from the newsstand

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Magazine covers have generated a lot of buzz over the past month: Esquire's futuristic electronic-paper issue stirred up press for the title's 75th anniversary year. Meanwhile, Vogue Italia's July issue, featuring only black models in its editorial spreads, flew off sales racks so fast the company has ordered a 40,000 copy reprint.

It will be interesting to see if these magazines take what's behind their current newsstand sales and use it to gain and keep regular subscribers in the future.

Drawing eyes at the newsstand — either from flashy covers, intriguing headlines or an interesting editorial premise — can bring these magazines one-step closer to luring new subscribers. Considering the exclusivity factor of Vogue and Esquire, these new potential readers could very well be the types of people that a direct campaign wouldn't have reached. They may not fit the usual demographic guidelines, they may be new-to-market, or perhaps they have simply fallen through the cracks. Either way, they are potential readers who, when confronted with a titillating newsstand presence enough, may just get hooked.

Of course, to really keep these readers, follow-up efforts like insert cards need to align with the message that drew them in. If people picked up the new Esquire, for example, because its electronic cover said “cutting-edge” to them, an insert card with more of a “classic” message wouldn't really hit home.

The techniques these titles employed to drive newsstand sales also play an important role in building brand recognition. Sure, Vogue was already a huge name, but thanks to the hoopla surrounding the “black issue,” the magazine may carry some extra social or cultural value in the eyes of some readers. The same goes for Esquire; potential readers who may have confused the magazine with GQ or Men's Vogue before may now see Esquire as the men's glossy for more avant-garde male fashionistas — and may be more likely to turn to the title for their fashion needs.

Once again, though, the message or branding has to be consistent. Someone who loved a magazine enough to buy a newsstand copy and then was convinced by an insert card to subscribe could be disappointed if the next issue doesn't follow through on the brand promise. If August's Vogue Italia features no black models, for instance, readers could be lost, and the brand's positive media image could be tarnished by backlash.

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