So we dip into the Magazine Retailer archive once again. On 2 December, 2000, Dennis gave a remarkable talk to the American Society of Magazine Editors. He lobbed some disturbing (to the audience) journalism 101 truths to explain Maxim magazine's then success at both subscription and single copy (a/k/a retail) sales.
On December 2, Felix Dennis of Dennis Publishing was the luncheon "entertainment" at a meeting of the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). His stateside publications – Maxim and Stuff – are relative newcomers to the North American scene. Their verve and, even more importantly, their success have made Dennis Publishing a player in the new world market. In a brash, droll and informative talk, he told the assembled New York editors about the power of single copy. The crème de la of prime time editing understood this intellectually and many had personal experience with the concept.
He cited some delightful statistics about Maxim's growth. The print run jumped from 175,000 copies to 2,700,000 in 25 issues. An MRI study revealed the average Maxim reader is a 30-year-old male with a median household income of $62,000 a year. He reported that the October 1999 issue "brought in 55,000 new subscription blow-in cards." Then he topped that nugget with the news that Maxim's newsstand percentage sale is currently 73% nationwide."
And then he shared his company's authentic success secrets. Staffing levels are lower than the norm which leads to "an environment where creativity and risk-taking dominates our company's culture." He also told the New York editors that "the cult of the celebrity editor" has no adherents at Dennis Publishing.
"The concept of one man or one woman," said Dennis, "as the big cheese, the font of all wisdom, is, in my judgement utter baloney. It leads to self-indulgence and a pomposity, which creeps inevitably onto the pages of the magazine."
He said that his company "worships at the altar of the reader" and that "the advertising community is a welcome and essential element of our congregation; but they are not invited to conduct the service or choose the hymns."
Dennis then gave a breakdown of Maxim's editorial content by category and confided that his company "arrived at these allocations of editorial content by the astonishing methodology of asking our readers what they wanted . . . and then supplying it." In looking at other magazines he pointed to "a gap in real affinity between reader and content" and observed that the "paid circulations of hundreds of magazines have been declining for years." To attract subscribers, American magazines have, according to Dennis, have employed such "promotional smoke and mirrors" as "junk mail drops, promotional giveaways and stamp sheets."
He suggested another way: "What if magazine subscriptions could be driven primarily by newsstand sales, and newsstand sales driven by editorial that connected with the reader." Dennis acknowledges that he does do some direct mail and that he has a three-person circulation department.
"I believe," said Dennis, "that the real circulation department at Maxim is called 'the editorial team." And that is the secret of reader-driven success."