The WSJ's New Magazine: An Obvious Money-Spinner

Includes: AXP, DJ, NWS, NYT, PSO, TWX
by: Felix Salmon

Irin Carmon gets some hard facts about the WSJ's new glossy magazine.

WSJ.'s circulation of 800,000 will be targeted to the 15 largest metro markets, including subscribers with a median household income of $300,000 (15 percent higher than the Journal's overall), plus a small amount of newsstand distribution. (For would-be readers shut out, all the material will be online.) Another 180,000 copies will be distributed in the Asian and European editions of the paper. As with Time magazine's Style & Design spin-off, the strategy hones the demographic profile while keeping production costs down.

This seems like a sensible strategy to me, but some people are skeptical:

"I don't see full relevance...The Wall Street Journal reader is going to the newspaper for vital information," said one media planner who specializes in luxury and requested anonymity. "You can't just hand them a free luxury magazine and hope they're going to read it."

Er, yes you can, and it's not just the NYT (T Magazine) and the FT (How To Spend It) which have shown quite convincingly that it can be done. Consider an obvious peer/competitor, with a circulation of just over a million readers who have an average household income of $296,425. It built its franchise, which is now extremely strong, from absolutely nothing, using exactly the strategy of handing its readers a free luxury magazine and hoping that they were going to read it. What am I talking about? Departures, the magazine distributed free to holders of the American Express platinum and black cards.

In many ways, magazines such as this are a better way of reaching high net worth potential customers than are magazines like Vogue. Buying space in Vogue will help your buzz within the fashion industry, which is very important. But Vogue's readership is not particularly elite, in aggregate: it's sold on supermarket magazine racks across the country, to people who will never spend thousands of dollars on a jacket or tens of thousands of dollars on a watch.

Historically, the problem with the WSJ launching a luxury magazine was the fact that its readers generally got the newspaper at the office. The Saturday WSJ has solved that problem; once it launched, the magazine was only a matter of time. And with Rupert Murdoch bankrolling it, I have no doubt that it's going to be a huge success.