The Most Expensive Magazine in America
Some might surmise that re-launching a luxury brand in the midst of the full-on recession is the worst idea ever. Patrick D.C. Williams, publisher of Worth, disagrees.
For 110,000 lucky readers, the most expensive magazine in America—Worth—is actually free. But chances are you haven’t seen it. That’s because to make it onto Worth’s complimentary and highly exclusive mailing list, you must live in a select U.S. market (Westchester County, the Delaware Valley, and Phoenix-Scottsdale, to name a few), have a net worth of $2 million or greater, and own a home with median value closer to something like $6 or $7 million.
If you’re not one of these 110,000 people, you can dish out $18.95 at select Border’s, Hudson News, and Barnes and Noble around the country.
But the circuitous route in which one must take to track down a copy of Worth isn’t the only thing that makes this magazine out of the ordinary.
In 2008, after 16 years on newsstands, Sandow Media purchased the beleaguered Worth and relaunched the brand in 2009 with a new
look, a new approach and a new tagline: The Evolution of Financial Intelligence.
And despite launching at a time when the majority of American media were dissecting the “worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and tracking the corruption case of Bernie Madoff, Worth forged along with articles like “The 12 Commandments of Wealth,” “Object of Desire: The Vision SF50 Private Jet” and “Will Global Warming Heat Up the Landscape of Wine?”—not exactly top of mind to the average reader.
Then again, Worth has no interest in being average, and by going niche, its new, highly selective brand is bringing in millions.
orange: So, you are the most expensive magazine in the country, are you not?
WILLIAMS: Yes, and we deliberately chose that position of wanting to be the most expensive magazine in the country, and we did it for three reasons.
One, we don’t desire to circulate to that $150,000, $170,000 average earner that most business and financial magazines target. I’ve
worked for other business and financial magazines, and those journalists are told to write articles that would be of interest to people who earn around that $170,000 mark, who are worried about their 401(k)s. Worth’s journalists are briefed to only write for people who have a liquidity of more than $2 million or $3 million. That $18.95 price tag would normally frighten away that $170,000 earner. And that’s a good thing because we’re not in the business of irritating our readers. It’s a price bracket or it’s a price barrier.
Two, we only pick people (110,000) that we know are subscribers to other business and financial publications, so the chances are they will know the brand of Worth. And when these people receive it, they open it up, look at it, appreciate the redesign, and then notice that it costs $18.95, but they’re receiving it for free, which helps to drag them closer into the brand.
And three, most marketers know that wealthy people, as well as the rest of us, love free things.
orange: It’s safe to say that by 2008, the Worth brand had run its course. What was the brand essence of Worth and what is it now? And have you been successful in making that transition,
especially in the midst of a recession of epic proportions?
WILLIAMS: The brand essence of Worth has always been to educate the ultra-high net worth individual about how to straddle the relationship with their wealth advisors. So it’s how to try and bring more to that relationship rather than just reading a quarterly statement, or a monthly statement. It’s to give the reader more questions they should be asking their wealth advisors. So one of the mainstay columns through the magazine’s history has always been “10 Questions for Your Financial Advisor,” or “10 Questions for Your Private Banker.” But under the old Worth, with the traditional subscription and newsstand model, we were finding a lot more of the readers were in the trade, where 25 percent or 30 percent of the magazine’s distribution or circulation was going to financial advisors. So we were becoming more and more trade oriented.
But once a year we had a fantastic issue with the top 250 wealth advisors across the nation. So Adam Sandow’s (the new owner of Worth) vision for the publication was to be able to make sure that it was much more oriented back to the ultra-high net worth individual. With the whole redesign, [we wanted] the look and feel of the
magazine to be much more of a book journal, coming out six times a year with a longer shelf life. A number of readers told me that they haven’t thrown out issue No. 1 yet. Issue No. 9 is now out.
orange: How are you soliciting feedback from your readers? Are you engaging them?
WILLIAMS: Getting them to come to our Worth events has been a huge success. And we’ve had over 20 events this fall and have a record number of readers attending. But really, the best engagement that we can get is from the wealth advisors who market through the publication and advertising partners—and I stress “partners” there. Only eight issues in, we’ve had more than $450 million in assets under management show up to our wealth advisors’ doors. We think that is incredible. I mean, in all the years of working for the Economist and with Condé Nast, I have never seen such a great ROI for our partners. When people say to me, “Print is dead. You should be working just in a digital format.” I’m like, “Well, I’ve got over $400 million that says it isn’t.”
orange: So from an advertising standpoint your model is paying off. But what is the real goal of this new version of
Worth? Obviously you don’t want to increase your rate base.
WILLIAMS: Well, there are still a few cities that we’re not in. We’ve chosen the top 11 areas across the country. But there are other cities that we can expand to, and we could subdivide certain cities that we’re in already. So we can increase the circulation as time goes on and the model becomes more successful.
What we really want to do—and what I think the success of the new brand is based on—is not just talk to traditional advertisers who will go through the natural troughs and peaks of the economy. We don’t want to be 95 percent, 97 percent reliant on traditional advertising. We want to be bringing other forms of marketing or revenue streams into the publication. And with the packages that we work out with our marketing partners, who are wealth advisors, major financial, luxury, fashion, automotive, and large advocacy companies, we see as being revenue streams that are a lot less the troughs and peaks of traditional advertising. …
orange: Last year in a New York Times article, you said something along the lines of “previous recessions haven’t
worried the ultra-high net worth individual and there couldn’t be a more pertinent time for Worth to step up to the plate.” I take it you still feel the same way?
WILLIAMS: Yes, Adam’s vision for the publication was to re-launch a magazine about personal finance for the ultra-high net worth in the spring of 2009, which was brilliant, because a lot of the well-known financial brands out there had suffered enormously through the crash, and then a lot of the independent wealth advisor firms were shy as a result of the Bernie Madoff scandal. A lot of people were saying to me, “Is this really a good time to be re-launching a personal finance magazine?”
And what really appealed to Adam, obviously, and everyone in the group here, was that we are doing is offering advice to the ultra-high net worth individual, which is something that they don’t get in most other publications. We knew that this is probably the first time in living memory that the ultra-high net worth individual really wanted objective, clear advice, and that sending it to them in May of 2009 was probably one of the best things that we could have done.
orange: So from your perspective, niche is the only way to go?
WILLIAMS: While not the only way, it is a way that is working for us. I would equate it to the advent of cable television as compared to the networks. Specialization into a market and looking at different revenue streams is something that is proving successful for Worth.
orange: What are your feelings about some of the other magazines that redesigned around the same time as Worth? We all know Newsweek was a disaster.
WILLIAMS: Newsweek has still to play out. I think The Atlantic was brave in increasing its subscription base, losing some readers, but having readers who are more engaged with the publication. It was a very brave move, and one that I think is something that we’ve touched on here by really just [creating] an audience that has no waste in it.
orange: What other brands are doing this well?
WILLIAMS: Look at some of the big luxury firms like a Moët
Hennessy who have not compromised on price and have really stayed ahead of the luxury market. Look at Hermes, who through the entire downturn continue to hold their prices high and manage to bring in a profit. Chartis, who are promoting themselves and taking advantage of a quiet marketplace in their segment, and Rolls Royce, who are backing their commitment to the UHNWI, are two other examples.
I admire companies who stuck to what they do best and do it well. They haven’t expanded too far. They haven’t reached out too much during the high period of ’04 to ’07, ’08. They didn’t expand their brands too much, just kept to the core of what they were doing and kept on doing more of it.
orange: As the publisher of such a pricey publication, what do you think it will take for people to pay for content? I just met with a group of college students who said no way would they pay even $1.99 for their favorite magazine.
WILLIAMS: At the moment they may not pay $1.99 for something that is of general interest to them. But if it’s something that is
specifically targeted at them then they might. For example, my two daughters are very keen on American Girl dolls. We just started receiving their quarterly magazine in our apartment. And for a 7- and an 8-year-old who are obviously way into the digital era and are already sharper than I am on most laptops, they were absolutely delighted about receiving American Girl magazine. It’s like a gift just for them.
So I think there is a strong area for print as long as you’re targeting an audience that you know is interested in that subject matter. As one of our wealth advisors says, “Do what you do best and stick at it.”