As new media closes in on magazines, The Fader pioneers ways to merge print and online formats
Magazines are a tough business. The success rate for startups is abysmal, and for those that have made it, the threat of new media is a constant looming presence that casts a dark shadow on their paper-based prospects. But while traditional titles are slowly navigating their way across the digital divide, one music magazine has extended itself further into the online world than any before and is already reaping the benefits of its approach.
The Fader prides itself on being a step ahead of the constantly morphing music world. It bills itself as "the authority on what's next." Since its 1998 founding, it has built a dedicated readership by combining high production values with inside knowledge of new music from a fan's perspective, and - perhaps most notably - by embracing the sea change that the Internet has brought about in the music industry and how fans use it to connect with new artists.
The magazine is, somewhat uniquely, owned by a marketing company. Cornerstone Promotion, which was founded by music industry veterans and specializes in helping corporations "seamlessly integrate their... brands into the culture" of the coveted young and music-savvy demographic, owns the magazine, though it does not interfere with its editorial aspects. But the relationship with Cornerstone has helped The Fader develop innovative ways to promote itself - none more striking than the most recent issue's placement as a free PDF file on the iTunes Web site.
The free availability of an entire downloadable magazine, advertisements and all, on the popular site was touted as a first for any music publication.
"It's something we've been talking about for a while, as we've kind of tried to wrap our heads around new formats, and magazines and the Internet and how those two kind of merge," says The Fader publisher Andy Cohn. "We thought it was a nice step toward merging the print version with thefader.com, which is our online blog."
The Fader's readers, who pride themselves on knowing what's coming before everyone else, tend to be especially knowledgeable about the Web, a characteristic of being young music fans in the new millennium. The magazine caters to that by offering content on its Web site that is mostly separate from the print edition, leaving an opening for the iTunes version. "As a magazine, when you have these beautiful spreads, whether it's ad creative or editorial, there's that fold in the middle," notes Cohn. "Now [in the PDF version], it's just clean, straight across. It looks great."
The move of a print magazine onto the iTunes podcast circuit garnered not only publicity and new readers, but also a new revenue stream for The Fader. Southern Comfort, the whiskey brand, sponsored the digital issue. Other publishers are doubtless brainstorming possibilities, knowing that each new format can bring in new and diverse sponsors for different audiences.
The magazine was a hit on iTunes, rising into the top 10 podcasts soon after its release. More readers are downloading it every day, so no final figures are available, but Cohn says that "we anticipate to probably hit our offline circulation base, which is about 87,500, if not exceed that."
Rather than worrying that free online distribution of the entire issue could hurt newsstand sales, The Fader has gambled that recruiting more online eyeballs will ultimately benefit the business. Ed James, president of Cornerstone's PR division, works closely with the magazine and is largely responsible for crafting its promotional strategy. "Though it's a great way to get more national exposure for The Fader," James says of the PDF, "that's not really what's most important for us. It has to be done in the right places. And iTunes inherently aggregates such a hardcore music enthusiast that it's putting us in the right places for more exposure."
James has only been working for the magazine for about six months, but he has already earned both trade and consumer press for the magazine itself and has started promoting the staff as expert commentators. Cohn says he is pleased with his work and believes that PR will be an integral part of moving The Fader past indie darling status to become a solid nationwide presence.
Mike Spataro, EVP of Web relations for Weber Shandwick, has watched The Fader's moves from the outside. He says the jump to iTunes was a classic case of knowing one's audience.
"Being a music magazine, it fits the medium quite nicely," he says. "I'm not so sure if a business magazine did it, it would be as well-received or as effective."
But even with the positive publicity for its digital commitment, The Fader is keeping its feet firmly planted in the old school. "The print edition will always be the core," says Cohn. "We're not subscribing to the 'print is dead' mentality. It's a beautiful physical magazine."
AT A GLANCE
Company: The Fader
Publisher: Andy Cohn
Headquarters: New York
Competitors: Blender, Spin, Filter, Rolling Stone, Elemental
Key trade publications: PRWeek, MediaWeek, BrandWeek, AdWeek, Advertising Age, The Hollywood Reporter
PR budget: The Fader is owned by its PR agency, Cornerstone Promotion
Global communications team: Ed James, president, Cornerstone PR
Marketing services agency: Cornerstone Promotion