Premier Guitar strikes the right chord with print/digital/mobile mix
When you’re building a publication from the ground up, it’s easy to begin with a cross-channel vision. The hard part is successfully executing across print, Web and mobile platforms.
Premier Media Holdings, publisher of Premier Guitar magazine, is off to a pretty good start. The independent publisher has turned a fairly traditional model – print subscriptions and ad-supported digital content – into a high-growth business.
Founded in 2007, Premier Media is growing revenues at about 30% a year and is “solidly profitable,” Managing Director Peter Sprague said in a phone interview. Sprague shared some impressive numbers:
- Premier Guitar has a paid print circulation of about 30,000. Monthly folios average about 240 pages with a 45/55 ad/edit ratio.
- The digital version of the magazine – an enhanced replica offered free of charge with online registration – has 82,000 subscribers. Sprague estimates a 20% cross-over between print and digital subscribers.
- The Premier Guitar website has grown from 600,000 unique visitors in 2010 to 900,000 uniques this year. A companion aggregation/curation site called GuitarSquid, which debuted in March of this year, is already averaging 150,000 monthly uniques, who consume an average of about 7 pages per visit.
- Mobile users – which can access Premier Guitar content through its Texterity-produced iPad, iPhone or Android apps as well as the mobile-optimized Premier Guitar website – are approaching 75,000.
- Premier Guitar’s YouTube channel has about 30,000 subscribers and is approaching 20 million total page views.
- A weekly newsletter, called Backstage Pass, has close to 75,000 subscribers – with open rates from 60-65%.
“We’re Alice’s Restaurant,” said Sprague, referencing the “you can get anything you want” lyric from the Arlo Guthrie song. “We want to provide our content to people in whatever format they want to consume it.”
Multi-platform from the ground up
Premier Guitar was conceived from the start as a multi-platform publication – which Sprague believed would give it an edge against more established competitors such as Guitar World. “There’s a very passionate audience in this marketplace, but it was covered from a very print-centric position,” said Sprague. “We saw an opportunity to build a multimedia business instead of a print-centric one.”
The 25-person staff shares print, digital and mobile responsibilities. Advertising is sold at a single rate across all platforms. The editorial staff produces the print and digital editions along with exclusive Web content, including the video that’s served on YouTube. Editorial accounts for about 45% of functional expenses, as content creation is “our single biggest investment,” said Sprague. “If you believe content is king, at the end of the day your readers will learn to trust you,” he said.
Most noteworthy, perhaps, is the company’s subscription model. An annual print subscription is $24.95, with newsstand copies priced at $5.95. But the digital edition – a Texterity-produced replica with additional interactive features – is free. Ironically, print circulation is rising, which Sprague attributes to the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats theory.
“We don’t plan to abandon our approach to free [digital] access,” said Sprague. “Instead, we plan to enhance the content we offer on both free and paid platforms.”
Premier Media’s revenue model still tilts heavily toward advertising – only about 20% of sales come from paid content. But most of the company’s growth objectives, Sprague said, aim toward audience-generated revenues; his target is a 60/40 split between advertising revenues and paid content.
The growth path will be determined in large part by the audience. Premier Guitar's mobile strategy, for example, is driven in par by the fact that 53% of its audience owns a smartphone and 20% own a tablet.
“One of our biggest commitments is constant research against readers to determine what they like and don’t like,” said Sprague. His team just completed an annual universe-based study that included nearly 4,000 verbatim comments. Sprague said he also obsesses daily over his digital dashboard, which features a mix of traffic and engagement metrics.
Sprague continues to look for new ways to expand Premier Guitar's audience. The company recently completed a pilot for a reality TV series and is pitching it to the broadcast networks. Sprague described the pilot as “very Tosh.0-ish.” Premier Media is also exploring possibilities in the Internet radio space.
“There are15-20 million guitar players in America,” Sprague explained. “We collectively reach over 1 million of them. So we’re looking at other platforms to get to the rest of them.”