Special Report: The Positioning of Magazines: Cottage Life keeps readers up close and personal

In this report, the editors of a half-dozen consumer magazines - Clin D'Oeil, Cottage Life, Saturday Night, Shift, Toronto Life and TV Guide - explain what they are doing to better understand their readers and how they are positioning their product...

In this report, the editors of a half-dozen consumer magazines – Clin D’Oeil, Cottage Life, Saturday Night, Shift, Toronto Life and TV Guide – explain what they are doing to better understand their readers and how they are positioning their product against other media.

As well, reporter David Chilton looks at the effect on the Canadian magazine industry of proposed decreases in postal rate subsidies.

Ann Vanderhoof

Cottage Life

Q. What methods do you use to identify and understand your readership so you can tailor editorial content to their needs?

A. Cottage Life is directed at a very vertical audience – the people who own, use and visit cottages on lakes and rivers in Ontario – so our readership is very clearly identified.

Our readers are looking for information to help them keep their cottages in working order, so the magazine has a strong service slant. (And, since cottaging isn’t all work, the service side of the magazine addresses having fun at the cottage, too.)

Our efforts to identify and understand our readership have, to date, been extremely successful.

The magazine has a subscription renewal rate that is 50% higher than the industry norm. Fifty-seven per cent of our subscribers renew for two-year terms. And an astonishing 96% pay cash with their orders.

The magazine has also spawned a book publishing company, Cottage Life Books; a radio show; a television show, and a consumer show.

Since its founding in 1988, the magazine has worked hard to develop a very close relationship with our readership.

We try to give the magazine a personal tone, and humor is a very important part of our mix. We want readers to look on us as a good friend.

As a result, we constantly receive letters (and photos), and calls from cottagers telling us about their cottages, which help us maintain personal contact with our readers.

I make a point of reading as many of these letters as possible (and the ones I don’t get to, one of the other editors does.) Many of our ideas have come from this source of information.

We also make it a point to include editorial features in the magazine that allow interaction with our readers.

For instance, we have a ‘Cottage Questions’ column that runs in every issue.

We’ve also found that unusual contests can provide a terrific feel for the magazine’s readership.

For instance, several years ago, we ran a contest asking readers to tell us about their worst trips to the cottage.

It generated overwhelming and hilarious response, and resulted in one of the most popular cover stories in the magazine’s history.

With every first renewal notice mailed to subscribers, we include a reader survey.

In addition to the yes/no questions asking subscribers to tell us about their cottages and rate the importance of various sections of the magazine, we ask several open-ended questions.

For example, we ask them what other specific articles they would like to see in the magazine, and what articles they have enjoyed most over the past year.

The response to these open-ended questions is phenomenal and provides valuable insight into our readers’ cottage pleasures and problems.

We also stay in touch with our readers by meeting them face-to-face.

This occurs most signficantly at The Cottage Life Show, which the magazine launched two years ago.

In addition, the magazine has a close working relationship with the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Association, which represents 500 cottage associations across the province.

Q. What manner of input or guidance do you get from the publisher and salespeople in determining the editorial direction of the magazine?

A. A great idea is a great idea – no matter where it comes from.

Therefore, I welcome input from our salespeople – and all other staff.

Our publisher and most of our salespeople are cottagers, so they have good suggestions for things they would like to see covered in the magazine.

Plus, they talk to a lot of people in the course of their sales calls – and they pass along a variety of interesting story leads.

However, the final decision about what will and will not be covered in the magazine remains with me.