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Fulfillment Firm Satisfies Publishing Clients in Niche Market

After spending several years handling circulation for a small Canadian magazine without a fulfillment house to turn to for support, one publishing professional took matters into her own hands.

“I used to be a circulation manager for a small, regional publication, and when I was looking for out-of-house fulfillment there really wasn't anyone that could fill my needs, so the only option was to do it in-house,” said Faith Drinnan, president of The Oyster Group, Preston, Nova Scotia. “That's why I started my own fulfillment bureau 11 years ago, realizing that there was a hole in the market for such publications.”

Part of the problem was that large subscription fulfillment houses — such as Communications Data Services Inc. and the fulfillment division of Electronic Data Systems Corp., which was acquired by the Kable News Co. division of AMREP Corp. this month — were so big that taking on small titles wasn't worth the trouble, she said.

Even if they took on such clients, they wouldn't meet their needs because the bigger houses couldn't customize their approach, Drinnan said.

As a result, most small publishers try to do their fulfillment in-house, as one of Drinnan's clients explained.

“I've been involved with publishing since 1979, and there really was not a fulfillment house in Canada that small and medium-size magazines could get service from,” said Neville Gilfoy, president and publisher of Progress Corp., Halifax, Nova Scotia. “We had no options really but to do it ourselves.”

However, after having worked with Drinnan at other publications, he jumped at the chance to give her his fulfillment business when she opened Oyster Group.

“As a publisher you can't invest in-house and get the same return,” Gilfoy said. “The Oyster Group can invest in constantly evolving technology and training.”

Progress Corp. publishes titles such as Progress, a business-to-business magazine for the Atlantic region of Canada with a circulation of about 24,900; Atlantic Chamber Journal, the official voice of the Atlantic provinces' chambers of commerce with nearly 10,000 paid subscribers; and Le Journal des Chambres de Commerce de L'Atlantique, a French-language magazine for members of the Francophone chambers of commerce in Atlantic Canada with nearly 5,000 paid subscribers.

Another client is particularly pleased with having a fulfillment house that is in tune with its subscriber base.

“Fulfillment is a relationship-building process,” said Linda Gourlay, vice president and general manager of Saltscapes and Eastern Woods & Waters magazines in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. “Faith and her company are an Atlantic Canada-based company, and they share the same values as our readership. They understand our subscribers, and that makes those business transactions that much more positive for the reader.”

However, she was quick to note that The Oyster Group is not some quaint little company.

“I don't want to paint the picture that Faith's company is in any way hokey,” Gourlay said. “It has the sophistication that is demanded by any publisher of our size as far as the technology and software systems and the ability to think in larger terms.”

Saltscapes is a regional lifestyle magazine with 40,000 subscribers, and Eastern Woods & Waters is Atlantic Canada's outdoor magazine covering hunting, fishing and other field sports with about 20,000 subscribers.

Oyster Group serves three publishers with eight titles among them, all in Atlantic Canada. However, Drinnan is looking to expand to the rest of Canada and also has gone to New England to drum up business. She is in talks with some large U.S. publishers to win their Canadian subscription fulfillment business, she said, though she declined to name them.

Gilfoy said he could see why a publisher would do that after it took six months for a subscription to an American magazine to start coming to his son.

“Canadian circulation is a nuisance for the big houses in the U.S.,” he said, “not to mention the savings in the conversion to Canadian dollars.”

Still, though Drinnan sees her company taking more clients, she doesn't envision moving on to larger-circulation publishers.

“Our market is 70,000 in circulation or less,” she said. “This is a niche operation, and I see opportunities for growth in smaller-circulation publications.”

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