Hearst Signs Deal to Boost Circulation

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Hearst Publications, New York, inked a deal last week with catalog directory publisher Belcaro Group, Greenwood Village, CO, to offer subscriptions to six Hearst magazines through Belcaro's catalog directories: Shop At Home, HomeSpaces, HomeFair and SportFolio.

"The goal was to do something different," said Bridget Wells, director of agency services at Hearst Publications, a division of The Hearst Corp.

The six magazines included in the test are Esquire, Gardener, Harper's Bazaar, Popular Mechanics, Sports Afield and Town & Country. "Astute circulation managers should always be looking for new and different ways of selling their magazines," she said.

Belcaro Group, which until now focused primarily on catalog marketers, formally introduced its subscription partnership publishing program six weeks ago, and to date has signed up about 50 magazine titles, including Country Sampler Group's Decorating Ideas; F&W Publications' Decorative Artist's Workbook, Writer's Digest, Popular Woodworking and The Artist's Magazine; and Time Inc.'s This Old House.

"There was a distinct need in publishing, especially with the reduction in sales through American Family Publishers and Publishers Clearing House," said Karleen Bolin, director of national sales and publishing at Belcaro. "When we looked at our economics with publishers and what they were looking for, it became a very strong way for them to save money while acquiring very targeted prospects for their own efforts."

A direct marketing package that describes the publishing program is currently shipping to circulation directors of magazines that fit Belcaro's target markets, such as crafts, sports and home and garden. Sales representatives from the company are approaching group publishers, including Condé Nast Publications and Primedia.

"It's been such a success and is so appealing to publishers because they keep the full subscription cost when the subscriber pays their invoice," Bolin said. "This also competes with a traditional direct mail plan, but instead of having to drop 100,000 pieces to get a 1 percent response rate, we do the mailing for them and deliver that 1 percent. We're assuming the upfront mailing cost, which is the most expensive part of the effort."

Wells at Hearst agrees. "The cost per order they're charging us in no way is as expensive or as excessive as putting a package in the mail," she said. "It makes sense for us to pay them on a cost-per-order basis rather than mail to more marginal lists or to drop more mail." She compared the benefit to that of stamp-sheet subscription agents like Publishers Clearing House. "They can reach people more efficiently than we can because they're out there selling other products."

With 60 percent to 70 percent of catalogs targeted to new prospects, Belcaro generated 7 million names last year of customers who requested at least one of the company's four catalog directories.

Belcaro mails about 30 million catalogs a year, with half that number for its most popular directory, Shop At Home, which is geared to female catalog shoppers. SportFolio is targeted to men interested in outdoor activities such as sports, automotive, hunting and fishing. HomeFair is directed to craft and country collectibles enthusiasts, and HomeSpaces goes to upscale home furnishings and garden enthusiasts. Each catalog is mailed six to eight times a year.

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