Win the Month: Politico Launches Print Magazine

Call it Politico Slow.

On Wednesday morning, Politico announced details of its upcoming bimonthly magazine. The first issue will be published on Friday, Nov. 15. The initial print run will be 40,000 copies. Susan Glasser, formerly of Foreign Policy, will serve as the top editor. The magazine will come out six times a year. Bank of America has signed on as a launch sponsor. A spokesperson said the magazine will be free.

Why is the political news organization known for obsessively trying to win the morning now trying to … win the month? Or win every two months?

Last year, former Politico media reporter Michael Calderone noted in a lengthy piece for the Huffington Post that traffic at Politico’s flagship operation appeared to have plateaued, suggesting that in the years ahead the news organization would have to adopt new strategies to keep expanding the brand’s audience:

“In the middle of an election year, with political junkies frothing, Politico’s traffic during the first five months of 2012 is down, from an average of 4.229 million unique visitors in 2011 to 4.165 million so far this year, according to the Internet marketing research firm comScore. Traffic numbers over the past two years, which have basically plateaued, suggest Politico has captured just about as big an audience as it can for its unique brand of non-stop political news.”

According to comScore, Politico pulled in 4.005 million unique U.S. visitors in September 2013. With the market for minute-by-minute, insider political coverage perhaps nearing a saturation point, Politico is now making a big bet on a monthly magazine. The strategy may reflect a new and growing awareness in media companies of what media theorists such as professor Anita Elberse of the Harvard Business School call a “blockbuster strategy.”

The counterintuitive idea is that in today’s fragmented marketplace, media and entertainment companies (ranging from book publishers to movie studios, to music labels) tend to make more money over time by concentrating their budgets on a smaller number of expensively produced, heavily marketed items aimed at mass audiences (aka blockbusters) than by producing a larger number of cheaper ones aimed at narrow niches.

The new magazine will essentially serve as Politico’s studio for political blockbusters.

It will also give them a new product to sell advertisers. In a challenging media environment, savvy publishers such as Meredith, in Des Moines, Ia., have quietly been raking in money in recent years by printing so-called bookazines (see, for instance, Chicken Dinners)—enormous, glossy magazines with long expiration dates that can live on a newsstand, or a coffee table, or (in the case of Politico Magazine) a congressional staffer’s desk for months without feeling dated. For certain brand advertisers, the slow pace of the bookazine offers an appealing comparative advantage vs. the frenzied pace of the Web.

Politico is betting that money’s to be made in going big and going slow. “If we have learned one thing in the past seven years about what works in media, it is this: It is excellence—not workaday, commodity journalism—that readers demand and reward,” John Harris, editor in chief of Politico, said in today’s release. “We believe that the valuable journalism that POLITICO Magazine will bring to our audience is even more essential in today’s hyperkinetic news environment.”