The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is pouring $2.5 million into Technology Review, its 99-year-old tech magazine, in the hope that extensive direct mail campaigns and a sweeping image makeover will invigorate the waning publication.
After Technology Review hemorrhaged $1.6 million in the last seven years, publisher and CEO R. Bruce Journey noted: “There were only two options for this magazine: change dramatically or cease to exist.”
In June, the magazine will send 2.5 million direct mail pieces to movers and shakers across the nation. The prospects, whose names were culled primarily from the lists of business, science and technology publications, make up a group of individuals that Technology Review dubs “innovators.” They are leaders in technology, business, government, academia, venture capital and investment. They earn more than $100,000 in household income, hold top-level positions and have more than one college degree.
Journey is aiming to boost his magazine's circulation from 92,000 to 150,000 by the end of 1998 and to more than 200,000 within two years. If he succeeds, Technology Review will be competing with other magazines geared toward top-level professionals, including Wired, Fast Company, Red Herring and Upside.
“We want to get to a critical mass scale for the advertising community without diluting or diminishing the quality of our audience,” Journey said. “We don't have aspirations to go beyond a quarter of a million circulation to 300,000 or 400,000. If we did that then we would have to dumb the magazine down, and we are not going to do that.”
Journey said he isn't going to “dumb down” his magazine to bulk up circulation, but he is shifting its emphasis to reach his goal for the year 2000. After surveying subscribers and advertisers, Journey discovered that the magazine's main weakness was its lack of focus. Although Technology Review had received several editorial awards for articles on technology and its implications, Journey thought those two topics were too broad to reel in a healthy number of subscribers.
Consequently, the magazine's relatively small circulation of 92,000, half of which are MIT alumni, was failing to attract advertisers.
Journey decided to focus on technological innovation, approaching it less from a scientific view and more from a corporate standpoint, in order to attract a wider variety of advertisers and subscribers. The revamped magazine, including jazzed-up graphics, will debut at the end of April.
Subscribers and advertisers are taking notice.
The redesigned issue will contain 40 pages of paid advertising, compared with 15 pages in the current issues. New advertisers include IBM Corp., Lucent Technologies Inc., the British Ministry of Trade and Industry, Boeing Commercial Aircrafts, Lotus Development and Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.
Technology Review launched five direct mail tests of 12,000 pieces each last December to promote the revamped magazine. One of the pieces garnered a 35 percent increase in response vs. the magazine's control.
That piece formed the basis for the June campaign, which positions Technology Review as a cutting-edge publication and offers prospects two free trial issues. The 6-inch-by-11-inch white envelope reads: “A special Charter Invitation from MIT — The favor of a reply is requested” and bears the prestigious MIT name and a picture of its campus.
“The fact that the magazine is from MIT is a huge selling point with people,” said Martha Connors, Technology Review's associate publisher.
A letter urges the reader to preview two free issues of the magazine and consider subscribing for $19 a year, “because remember, right this moment someone is creating an innovation that will dramatically change your livelihood … your health … your recreation … your investment portfolio.”
A folded note for recipients who decide not to accept the offer of two free issues urges the “skeptical reader” to reconsider and assures that there are “no tricks, no gimmicks, no hidden costs.”
A full-color brochure reveals that the magazine will cover future computing, future medicine, reviews of software, CD-ROMS, films, books, Web sites and much more. It reminds readers the MIT has spawned the founders of 4,000 active companies, including Campbell Soup Co., Infoseek, Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments, which have combined annual revenues of almost $232 billion.
Although the magazine has traditionally launched two direct mail campaigns of about 350,000 pieces each throughout the year, it will up the number of campaigns and increase their size. Technology Review, which sells for $4.95 on newsstands, also is considering using telemarketing to encourage subscription renewal and the Internet to attract potential subscribers.