Sci-Am benefits from increased science interest

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In a year that has been rocky for some members of the publishing industry, science and technology magazines seem to be carving a strong niche. Discover Magazine, for example, experienced a large jump in ad pages this year, and Bonnier Corp. announced earlier this month that it is resurrecting Science Illustrated in the United States.

Scientific American, for its part, is responding to audience and advertiser interest in science with a magazine re-design, an online push, circulation growth and the testing of new titles.

Bruce Brandfon, VP and publisher of Scientific American, explained what he calls "a renaissance of interest in science."

"I think we as a society recognize that public policy must look to the scientific community for the answers, so that creates a huge opportunity for us as a business," he said. "People who wish to be well-informed, make good decisions, make good investments, people who wish to enhance their careers, educate their families and be globally competitive need this information."

Scientific American's July issue revealed a new, "more accessible" design as well as a 20,000 rate base increase to 575,000. It's the magazine's third rate base increase since 2000.

In its redesign, Scientific American focused on putting more graphics in its editorial content. Simon Aronin, associate publisher of circulation at Scientific American, said the redesign affected the magazine's direct mail campaigns.

Currently, Scientific American's direct mail package is an oversize max flat with three pieces: a letter, a brochure and an order form with a statement of benefits. Since the re-design, the circulation department has been testing two variations of this model, both emphasizing the editorial content.

One test package bears the slogan, "It's more than you imagine" and shows the cover, along with an extended list of benefits of the editorial. The other test includes graphics of article spreads in the magazine.

Aronin strongly credits Scientific American's direct mail campaigns, which have seen increased success over the past two years, for subscription sign-ups. The No. 2 source for subscriptions, he says, is the magazine's Web site. The Web site offers subscriptions to the print magazine as well as to the digital edition. The magazine is also testing an insert program right now.

Scientific American had a paid circulation of 593,126 for the first half of this year - a 3 percent increase over last year.

Ad pages for the science monthly have increased by 11.4 percent this year. Brandfon said ad sales have tripled over the past 6 years.

The magazine has been exploring new types of advertisers. A glance through the June and September issues shows a slightly stronger presence from investment firms, luxury goods like Rolex watches, and travel after the July redesign.

Scientific American has responded to these positive numbers by launching new titles and increasing its online heft. Scientific American Mind was launched a couple of years ago and now has a 150,000 rate base circulation. A health-focused title, which may be called Scientific American Health Smart, is testing as a news stand special in December. It will have a print run of 300,000. Another publication, focusing on sustainability, is also in the works.

One impetus for the print magazine redesign was to better incorporate Scientific American's print and online offerings. As editor in chief John Rennie explained, "Increasingly, given the pace of the world, and the huge growth in people taking in content digitally, there's a shifting balance [between print and online]."

The Web site, features exclusive content, blogs and podcasts. Scientific American is developing community features for the site.

Multiple ads in each issue of Scientific American push the Web site alongside magazine subscriptions. Brandfon said many advertisers purchase packages across print and online.

Readers of Scientific American skew male, well-educated and high-income, making them attractive to advertisers.

"The fact is that elite people - not elitist, but elite - need rigorous and substantive information about this, and our audience is comprised of these elite people," Brandfon said. "These are people that advertisers want to associate with."

Rennie acknowledged that science magazines in general are strong lately but didn't believe that other publications posed much of a threat to Scientific American. "I think all of us really benefit from having a good, strong science magazine niche because it signals vitality in this area to advertisers and to other readers."

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