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Getting Started with SIPs (Special Interest Publications)

Nov 25, 2013

Earlier this month we highlighted a number of Magazines Canada members that are expanding their brands beyond print. Expos, trade shows, restaurants, online stores, books, TV channels—you name it, and Canadian magazines are there.

But there's one brand-building extension that Canadian titles do particularly well, and which are becoming more common in the marketplace: special interest publications, or SIPs. Long the province of large, general interest magazines looking to target their readers in a specific niche, SIPs are also being launched by smaller titles for a variety of purposes: Feathertale's anthology Eat It, Little Brother's Rob Ford zine Everything is Fine, and UPPERCASE's illustrator directories are a few recent examples that come to mind.

And you don't always have to go more niche; sometimes a SIP targets a broader audience, as when Spacing magazine launched a special national edition after building a solid regional base. (It did so well that the national edition is now part of their regular production schedule.)

Big or small, consumer or cultural, the common thread amongst all of these publishers is that they each saw a need they could fill in their market to better serve and engage their readership, and then did it. 

Will a SIP work for your magazine? We have resources that can help! Here are some things to consider along the way.

Think Reader First

We spoke with Maryam Sanati, editorial director of special projects at Toronto Life, in 2012, shortly after the magazine launched a revamped and expanded series of SIPs. She stressed that, "The fundamental reason to do an SIP is to serve the reader. At Toronto Life, we focus on local content because we know our readers want high-quality service journalism with an uran focus." But there are other benefits as well: "SIPs present an opportunity to increase revenues, attract new readers and strengthen your [brand's] authority."

New vs. Repurposed Content

Some SIPs repurpose or repackage content that the magazine has published over the years: think of Cottage Life's Summer Grilling, for example, which pulled the magazine's best BBQ recipes for a standalone special. Others are a mix of existing and new editorial content, and some are made up of completely new content. Depending on your editorial archives, your readership and your advertising base, you can make a decision as to what the SIP will contain and how much it will cost to produce. "It's fair to say that SIPs can make a handsome profit if you manage your content well," says Sanati.

On the Newsstand

SIPs require special attention to newsstand sales. As Sanati notes, "it's an indicator of brand success and a measure of how well you're resonating with the public." But there are steps you can take prior to retail distribution that will help your SIP get noticed on the shelves. Magazines Canada's retail accounts manager Chris Chambers prepared a hotsheet for us this year on best practices for SIPs on the newsstand; he recommends that magazines let retailers know how special their special issue is by printing a longer-than-usual display date on the cover (so that it stays on the shelves longer), considering timing and accompanying retail promotions, and preparing a retail bulletin, particularly if it's a new SIP. A retail bulletin is "a one-page letter with a scan of the cover, a description of what the issue is, how valuable and fantastic it is, and who it is from (if the core title is not obvious). It should also include the distributor and distributor's rep information or customer service phone number, a reaffirmation of the 'display until' date, and, if you think it necessary, a recommendation of where on the store's rack it would best be shelved."

Cover Pricing

Chambers also recommends that, because SIPs are meant to show off your brand, they should have higher production values and so a higher cover price than your core title. "They should look like something your readers will want to keep, rather than recycle," he notes.

Case Studies

In 2011, the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors held a seminar on SIPs featuring Sanati and Ryan Kennedy, an associate senior editor for The Hockey News. Masthead and the Canadian Magazines blog posted summaries of the seminar. Some general tips from the event:

    • Build on your publication's core competencies
    • Be nimble and seize opportunities
    • Make the SIP a treat for readers

Are you planning a SIP for 2014? Let us know in the comments!

Further reading:

"Special Interest Publications: A Q&A with Maryam Sanati," Canadian Magazines canadiens, Spring 2012
"The SIP on the Newsstand," Chris Chambers, Magazines Canada Hotsheets, 2013

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