A Manhattan Beach, CA, publisher is taking a bold step during the next two months to expand its brand image as well as establish a newsstand presence for its magazine-style Moxiegirl catalog targeting teen-age girls.
The quarterly catalog will be renamed mXg and turn it into a full-fledged, nationally distributed publication in March by hmb publishing. In addition, the new mXg-branded book — which is technically a magalog — will accept print advertising for traditional retail products that won't necessarily be available through its current teleservices fulfillment system.
“I haven't really seen anybody doing what we're doing, said mXg publisher Hunter M. Heaney. “We're essentially creating an interactive magazine that you happen to be able to shop out of.”
Heaney, who also is president/CEO of hmb publishing, will place 150,000 copies of mXg on national newsstands through Curtis Circulation Co., New Milford, NJ. beginning March 1. With 750,000 catalogs already being mailed to consumers, Heaney's plans for extended newsstand distribution will bring mXg's overall press run to 1 million copies. The magalog is being launched simultaneously with its fully integrated product Web site www.mxgonline.com (formerly www.moxiegirl.com)
“We realize we're kind of by ourselves right now,” Heaney said. “We'll still offer subscriptions for $9.45 annually, but I don't see us competing with the other teen magazines any time soon. Our publication is different. It's going out to consumers in a number of ways.”
By putting mXg on the newsstands while also going after advertising revenue, Heaney is not only creating a hybrid format for advertisers and merchandisers alike, he eventually may find himself challenging how circulation auditors categorize magalogs, if not how the DM industry defines the word.
Abercrombie & Fitch, Columbus, OH, puts out a book it calls A&F Quarterly. Many say its format qualifies it as a magalog, but A&F Quarterly doesn't contain advertising from other sources, nor does it sell any product other than its own. It's also only available through mail-order subscription and its own retail outlets.
Other companies that have flirted with the magalog style include Nieman Marcus, Espirit, Patagonia, Martha Stewart and International Male. But like A&F Quarterly, they have largely used the format as a vehicle for ongoing seasonal promotions or to buttress existing brand loyalty.
“The magalog's success rate is spotty, but a certain demand has always been there for it,” said Michael Tiernan, president/CEO of The Mark Group, Boca Raton, FL, whose traditionally-circulated catalogs include Mark, Fore & Strike, Charles Keath and Boston Proper. “Some advertisers have bought space in them over the years, but I'm not aware of any real ongoing success.”
Lonnie Fogel, a spokesman for Abercrombie & Fitch, which became a separate public company from The Limited Inc., Columbus, OH, in May, said the magalog concept offers different options for different marketers.
“Clearly, there's lot of marketing interest in the hybrid magazine/catalog concept,” he said, “but there are many places along that continuum where you can plant your stake and drill for oil.”
Tiernan agreed. There's sort of an invisible fence that gets crossed turning a catalog into a magalog.
“I have not really seen it much recently, but today there's more competition for mind share. I do think advertisers like the idea because magalog audiences are very defined,” he said. “But everyone still has to ask themselves if they are really building their brand.”
For mXg, a favorable answer to that question may lie in the publication's ability to garner sustainable advertising as a traditional newsstand brand: a magazine product — something inextricably tied to verified circulation In the past, most high-profile magalogs haven't accepted outside print advertising. And because so many get distributed free of charge to existing customers, auditors tend to characterize them as “unpaid circulation” books. But mXg intends to accept advertising and already is touting its subscribers as “paid” because they can only get the book by paying for it in some way — either through subscription, newsstand purchase or by making a direct merchandise order.
Perhaps more so than other magalog products, Heaney has a solid case to make about what qualifies as paid circulation, but he is nonetheless presenting a paradox that will no doubt get auditors scratching their heads at the Audit Bureau of Circulation, Schaumburg, IL. ABC currently audits 800 publications in the United States — all of which fall neatly into one of four categories: consumer, farming and business magazines or print newspapers. And Heaney, in his own words, acknowledged, “We have challenges with ABC.”
According to Marybeth Meils, communications manager at ABC, “anything that accepts advertising could potentially be audited by ABC.” But for Keaney, getting the right kind of audit — one that characterizes the mXg reader as a “paid subscriber” — will be an important point advertisers will look for.
Meils said she couldn't speak to a hypothetical situation but reassured that any review of a specialty book, magalog or otherwise, would be at the discretion of the ABC board of directors on a case-by-case basis. “As long as the publication in question is willing to define itself in one of our four constituency categories, we would be willing to consider auditing it.”
Heaney started mXg as Moxiegirl in fall 1997 with his partner Stuart MacFarlane, vice president and chief operating officer of hmb publishing. They hope to make mXg a bimonthly publication later this year.
Ask any top maitre'd or local doughnut shop owner what matters most in the restaurant industry and you're likely to hear, “Location. Location. Location” before any mention of good food.
If current trend is any indication, DM pundits likewise soon may have their own definitive mantra for what makes the magalog succeed: “Branding. Branding. Branding.”
What Makes a Catalog a Magalog?
Although the jury still is out on how to define magalogs, or catazines as they are less commonly referred to, more of the hybrid vehicles are cropping up.
Appearing off and on since the '80s, magalogs tend to be editorially-enhanced merchandise catalogs — some with hefty cover prices. And not all have been available on newsstands or incorporated regular print advertising. Indeed, each seems to create its own variation on the theme, but one clearly driven by the need to make a highly stylized appeal to a customer — often an existing customer. And if you can get the customer to pay for it, all the better.
So what's the difference between a magalog and catalog?
According to spokesman Lonnie Fogel at Abercrombie & Fitch, “I define a catalog as something that does not have editorial content. We send out several hundred thousand catalogs. Virtually all copies of our A&F Quarterly have gone only to people who have paid for them through subscription or though single copy sales in our stores.”