by Chuck Colbert
Dollars spent on advertising in LGBT media for 2013 reached a record high of $381.4 million, according to a recently released report on gay media. And that record high represents an 18.2 percent increase from the previous year. At the same time, circulation and readership of LGBT media is also up a healthy 15.1 percent.
Some other key findings from The Gay Press Report include:
• Individual titles of gay newspapers and magazines are at roughly the same numbers as 2012, with an addition of only three new publications.
• Combined circulation of all LGBT publications is estimated at 2.7 million — and growing.
• Nine out of every 10 dollars spent in the gay press continues to be spent locally, with LGBT press consisting primarily of trusted community-owned businesses that reflect the specific need, interests and tastes of its readership.
• Gay specific ads are on the upswing — despite a two-year dip — as the percentage of ads with explicit references to gay and lesbian life in graphics and/or written messages stands at 56.2 percent — up 3.7 percent.
Overall, the record high in ad sales revenue reached in 2013 suggests that gay media has more than recovered from the recent recession, according to the report. In 2010, spending plummeted to $153.9 million from the previous high of $349.6 million, a record set in 2009 before the recession took hold over the economy.
By way of comparison, advertising sales revenue in consumer magazines — estimated at $10.3 billion — has continued to drop despite a small (1.3 percent) increase in 2010.
Upbeat reaction to report findings
No surprise here: LGBT media publishers and editors alike, along with industry observers, welcomed news of the gay print success story.
“What a nice surprise to see both sales and circulation up by double digits,” said Todd Evans, president and chief executive officer of Rivendell Media, publisher of the report. Rivendell is the nation’s leading gay and lesbian America’s media placement firm, securing national advertising in the gay press since 1979. (Evans is also publisher of Press Pass Q.)
“Print media remains an important part of the toolkit for any company trying to reach the diverse LGBT community,” said Tracy Baim, publisher and executive editor of Chicago-based Windy City Times. “This report shows that regional LGBT print media are especially key to national advertising campaigns. The LGBT community is among the most loyal of consumers, and they pay attention to brands that are creative and inclusive in their marketing efforts. It’s no longer good enough to say you have achieved a 100 percent ranking on LGBT issues. Brands need to dedicate marketing dollars to this niche, to fully communicate their diversity goals and to see a return on investment.”
As veteran LGBT media industry observer Bob Witeck noted, “America’s gay newspapers and publications so often are the heart of the LGBT community. It is very encouraging to see the growth trends and resiliency of the community’s legacy press.” Witeck is president of Witeck Communications, a firm that provides strategic public relations and marketing communications services for corporate and non-profit clients. Since 1993, Witeck has advised major corporations and marketers on ways to connect with LGBT audiences and households.
Now in its 19th year, the annual Gay Press Report provides a unique historical perspective on the LGBT press and consumer market. The report tracks all advertising and revenue in the gay press, including local newspapers, local LGBT magazines and guides, and national LGBT magazines. All titles are gathered from the month of April insofar as it is considered an average month in the gay media cycle. All advertising is then categorized, measured, and tracked. The information is extrapolated for all 12 months of the calendar year.
The full report is available at http://rivendellmedia.com/documents/2013gaypressreport/.
Print is not dead
Of course, the gay press report’s upbeat findings beg the question: In the Internet era of online publications and blogs — and the much-repeated refrain that “print is dead” — what accounts for the resiliency of the LGBT press and its robust performance?
“My gut is that more and more corporate advertisers are looking to invest in LGBT advertising, which makes the LGBT press healthier,” said David Paisley, senior research director at the San Francisco-based consumer research company Community Marketing, Inc.
“Remember that in this segment, even just 10 years ago, the LGBT regional press had little corporate advertising,” said Paisley. “Also remember with the exception of just a handful of national LGBT magazines, regional newspapers are the only print options. That is in contrast to the general population, where there are hundreds if not thousands of national magazine options. In addition, many corporate clients like to geo-segment their audience. LGBT regional press provides a perfect opportunity to target specific metro areas.”
Finally, Paisley said, “Many LGBT regional newspapers have made a strategic shift to be more corporate-advertising friendly by eliminating adult content/advertisers, and concentrating on more ‘serious’ editorial.”
Rivendell’s Evans and industry observer Witeck offered their perspectives on the manifest vitality of gay print.
Gay media professionals “are creating a quality product,” said Witeck. “LGBT papers today are a quantum leap from what they were 20 years ago and much better than 10 years ago. Over those years, they have become safer for advertisers, and there are more brands.”
In addition, “The wedding boom has helped,” Witeck said.
Overall, “The value is compelling,” he said, “because advertisers like and know the readership.”
Furthermore, “The CPM, or cost per thousands, is very affordable for [gay] community press. Nickel for nickel, you get more for your dollar,” said Witeck.
Evans said there is no magic bullet that explains LGBT media’s recording-breaking numbers this past year.
The economy is a “little better,” he said. “Coming out of the recession, people are spending more across the board.” Additionally, “digital [advertising] is perfect for some in the dot-com” landscape where “you want somebody to see a banner [ad] and click through to a site,” he explained.
Still, “For most advertisers, it’s about branding and creating an image,” Evans said, raising the question: How do you stand out? “If you want to stand out in a cluttered environment, buy the back cover of Curve Magazine. It’s the only national lesbian title. No one else is there, and no one is in your field of vision.”
Jerry Cunningham, publisher of Denver-based Out Front Colorado, is a big proponent of print advertising’s ability to build brand awareness, as well as “reliability” and “trust.”
Print ads, he went on to say, have critical “interrupt value.”
If you open up a regional LGBT magazine or newspaper,” Cunningham said, “and see a full-page ad talking about an event or certain company, it has interrupt value. It interrupts your consciousness and you say, ‘Wow. That must be a really big deal because it’s not cheap to get a full-page ad to advertise.’”
The success formula at Out Front, Cunningham said, is a three-part mix of “engaging content, true brand partners that make sense in your media mix, and an engaged audience.” (For more on Out Front Colorado, see sidebar below.)
For her part, publisher Baim points to LGBT media’s distinctive location on the information highway as some measure of print’s vibrancy.
“I think that niche print still provides a unique place for advertisers to connect to readers. With so much competition online, the irony now is that print is a cleaner way for advertisers to target the market,” she said. “I think advertisers need to do both print and online to get a comprehensive outreach to the LGBT community, but many studies have shown that reader engagement is a lot stronger for advertising that appears in print publications. That is why Vanity Fair still does so well in print form. If there are more ads, that means more pages overall and more copies of the paper can be printed.”
And yet Baim cautioned, “While the media report is strong, I still believe that the future is unknown for many forms of print, including LGBT media. Even with great response for advertisers, and studies that show certain forms of print publications are doing quite well, it is still important to communicate this information to marketers, to convince them that LGBT print publications serve an important role in their campaigns, as a proven way to reach loyal readers.”