With Rosie Folding, Subscriber List in Limbo

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Not only has a dispute between Rosie O'Donnell and Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing killed Rosie, a magazine that may have been close to turning a profit, it also has put the fate of at least 2.5 million subscribers and the mailers who prospect to them in question.


O'Donnell and G+J USA made separate announcements of the terminated joint venture agreement last week after months of feuding over editorial control of the publication.


Rosie hit newsstands in April 2001 as a replacement for G+J's ailing McCall's publication. It immediately took off and, according to G+J, was on its way to profitability despite a 10 percent decline in subscriptions and newsstand sales this year. In fact, the September issue had a record number of ad pages even though advertising is down in many publications.


While it was announced that the December issue would be the last, it is unclear what its subscribers will receive in its place or what would happen to companion Web site www.rosiemagazine.com, which updated as recently as Friday. G+J said it is "considering its legal and publishing options." O'Donnell's lawyer, former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White, was reported as saying that O'Donnell has encouraged G+J to publish the magazine under a new name. G+J publishes several other titles including Child, Family Circle, Fast Company, Fitness, Inc., Parents and YM.


During the six months ending June 30, Rosie's total average paid circulation was 3.5 million, slightly below the 3.6 million circulation in the previous six months, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. At its height, Rosie had 3.8 million in circulation. The magazine's subscriber mailing list contains 2.5 million active subscribers, according to Jim Long, director of list management at Millard Group Inc., Peterborough, NH, which manages the file.


The decrease in subscribers may have been a result of converted McCall's subscribers not renewing Rosie after their subscriptions ran out.


One circulation expert said it was never clear how many of the old McCall's subscribers took Rosie, adding that he doubted renewal rates were very high. He also theorized that an existing publication would take the file over as opposed to a new magazine starting up.


"I think what you'll find here is that some other magazine will take over that subscriber file and start serving their magazine to them," said Dan Capell, editor of Capell's Circulation Report, Ridgewood, NJ. Unless Rosie restarts it herself, he added.


No announcements were made right away about a replacement publication, and G+J officials did not respond to several requests for comment.


Either way, there also is the matter of the mailers currently using the Rosie file. According to Long, the file had begun to take off in recent months - and even though it's still on the market, there are several unknowns.


"This does make it challenging because mailers want to know what is going to happen down the road as far as the list being available," Long said. "Up until now the usage has been very good, but I honestly don't think that it's all that it could have been."


With 33 tests and 34 continuations listed under Rosie usage, the file still had room to expand its scope. Long said that the fundraising usage started growing six months ago and that publishing usage was strong.


Continuation usage listed on the file's data card would back that up. It includes publications such as Better Homes & Gardens, Ladies Home Journal, More, People, Reader's Digest and Soap Opera Digest as well as organizations such as American Cancer Society, Arthritis Foundation, National Children's Cancer Society and St. Jude's Children's Hospital.


"Rosie was very outspoken about a lot of different causes, including political, social or health-related causes," Long said. "Other ladies and home-type magazines also used the file quite heavily."


Fellow celebrity-branded magazine Martha Stewart Living had tested the Rosie file.


Long said G+J had not told him what might become of the file.


Despite leaving her talk show, coming out as a lesbian and the public animosity between O'Donnell and G+J, one list professional said he did not think Rosie's image should be a big concern of mailers using the list.


"I think that any time there's any change in public perception of an organization, particularly in cases where there is a figurehead, that a marketer has to evaluate or re-evaluate the impact that it's going to have on their promotion," said Charles Teller, executive vice president at ParadyszMatera, New York. "However, I think that the concerns of a marketer prospecting to the Rosie file should be less about her public persona and more about list quality issues."


For consumer magazines in the primary women's category, Rosie has been a solid file for several of ParadyszMatera clients, he said.


Teller said that although lists that are no longer mailing may work for some offers, it depends to a large extent upon whether new direct mail sold subscriptions were the successful names on the file.


Most list professionals would say that lists get used as long as they still work and that varies for every file and every mailer. How long the Rosie file will hold up is an unknown. And, if another publication took over the file, it would be back to square one for all the file's users, which would have to test what essentially would be a new file.


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