April 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

The Circulation Gold Standard

You must also have a highly targeted and current list of subscribers which advertisers want to reach.

There are three keys to excellence in specialty business magazine publishing. You must identify a unique market that requires highly specialized competitive information. The information you publish must be well researched, current, completely objective and extremely useful to competitors in the field. And if your business model calls for your financial sustenance to come from advertising--which is the case for this and most other trade magazines--you must also have a highly targeted and current list of subscribers which advertisers want to reach.

Of these, the last is among the hardest to achieve. Finding a market is easy. New markets pop up all the time, and publishers are never slow to develop magazines to serve them. When we launched Internet Retailer five years ago last month, it was the first magazine devoted to online retailing, but within a year we faced a handful of rivals. Most of them did not survive the Internet shakeout of 2001 when Wall Street ceased funding e-businesses with Monopoly money.

We survived, I think, because we invested early on in the editorial resources necessary to produce a first-rate publication, one that provided meaningful and current information others were not providing. During the lean advertising years of 2001 and 2002, when other publishers fled the market, we stayed because our own in-depth editorial coverage convinced us that we were reporting on a revolutionary change in retailing. We could see that the web was not simply another merchandising channel but a tool that would redefine all channels and create true multi-channel retailers.

That brings us to the third necessary ingredient--a targeted and highly qualified base of current subscribers who request the magazine. The words in italics are extremely meaningful to our advertisers.

Targeted: Subscribers are in all of the industry segments (retail stores, catalog firms, virtual merchants and consumer manufacturers) in which the web is used in merchandising directly to consumers. We have long served all of these segments--a costly undertaking not seriously pursued by many publishers who target one or two of these segments but not all four.

Qualified: Subscribers hold high-ranking positions, the executives coveted by vendors serving the targeted markets. Sixty percent of our subscribers hold the title of VP or higher.

Request: Publishers can buy or otherwise gain access to lists of executives in targeted markets and simply give them subscriptions without their specifically requesting them. Yet, most advertisers are looking for subscribers who directly and individually request a subscription. Our subscriber base is 100% personal direct request from the subscriber.

Current: Here is the tough part. Getting qualified executives in targeted industries to personally request a subscription is one thing; getting them to do it in the current year is quite another. Subscribers have to take action to renew their subscriptions and publishers must find enough new ones to replace those not renewing. In the past, we have had a minority of active subscribers whose most recent request for a subscription was more than one year old. But we have been working to eliminate these, and our latest circulation statement for the period ending December 31, 2004, reveals that all of our 34,343 qualified subscribers requested their subscriptions in 2004, making our subscriber base 100% first-year direct request. In my view, such a designation is the circulation gold standard of trade publishing, and we owe this achievement to the growth in our market, the quality of our editorial, and to you--our loyal subscribers.

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