Launches: Learning from the Pros; Nine Seasoned Publishers Reveal Their Strategies for Starting New Magazines Sharing Their Experience and Expertise

Article excerpt

Victoria: Celebrating a 'kinder and gentler' time

* The launch of Victoria is the story of entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in the heart of a major magazine publisher. Victoria was born of an instinct, shared by Hearst Magazines president Gil Maurer and me, about the opportunity for a magazine that celebrates timeless beauty and the mystique of femininity. We did no market research on the sale of lace; we didn't weigh the receipts from such movies as Room with a View; nor did we measure the fashion force of Laura Ashley.

Instead, the first issue of Victoria was launched on St. Patrick's Day 1987 with a national newsstand distribution (through Hearst's own ICD) of 400,000 copies. That first issue of Victoria was itself a test laboratory that included subscription offers, price tests and questionnaires designed to develop a precise profile of the reader so that we could edit succeeding issues to the target audience drawn to the premier issue.

The result: Seven issues later, Victoria has announced an advertising rate base of 750,000 and increased to full monthly publication effective with the August 1989 issue.

The timing of the launch of Victoria may have been dictated by the stars. Some months earlier I had hired an enormously talented and restless young editor from Meredith, Nancy Lindemeyer, and set her to work on a secret magazine project--the revival of the home service magazine American Home. We were nearing the first test phase when unexpected shifts in the market caused us to postpone the launch. This meant it was time to act on Howard Gossage's adage: When they hand you a lemon, make lemonade.

All the machinery of magazine development at Hearst was standing at the ready--printer, distributor, marketing, approved budget and the best editor in the field. All we needed was a magazine. It was up to me to figure out what this might be--or find the window of opportunity closed for another season.

With the number of new magazines hitting the market at a record pace, most of them "me too" publications, I reflected on how many seemed designed to convert still more readers into superwomen striving to have it all--often at the sacrifice of personal time. It seemed that the time had come for counter-programming, for the development of a magazine different from anything the world had seen. It would be a lifestyle magazine representing a "kinder and gentler" time, a celebration of the romantic and the feminine.

The clip-and-paste dummy I tossed on Gil Maurer's desk carried the logotype Victoriana. Gil said, "I think Victoria would be a better title." I said, "I am persuaded." And that was that.

After thumbing through the dummy, Gil had two questions: How many copies did I want to print? and, When can we start? Then he said, "Do it."

From that point, Nancy Lindemeyer, working primarily with managing editor Ann Levine and art director Bryan McCay, moved with speed to produce a finished dummy of the premier issue.

When they had a chance to get their first look at these camera-ready pages, Frank Herrera's newsstand managers at ICD instantly became the most enthusiastic supporters of the new magazine of any of the Hearst groups that reviewed the issue. And they were right. Of the 400,000 copies distributed, the sale was 320,000--a remarkable sell-through rate of 80 percent.

Then came the response that made the subscription department equally enthusiastic about Victoria: Over 50,000 of the single-copy buyers promptly sent in their cards to become subscribers, a conversion rate of one in six!

From the newsstand check-up, we knew we had a success--and Lindemeyer's small staff went back to work to produce a fall issue. This time, 600,000 copies of Victoria went to the newsstands and sold at a rate of almost 70 percent. This put more than 400,000 copies of Victoria in the hands of readers--and we were overwhelmed once again with subscription cards. …