Sat, Apr 25, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Individualized magazine comes with a few flaws

By Stephanie Clifford  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

When Time Inc and Lexus devised a project they thought could be a new business model for magazines, they discovered that new business models come with new problems.

The project is an individualized magazine called Mine. It is meant to play off the customizable features in the new Lexus 2010 RX by letting readers order the articles they want from Time Inc and American Express Publishing magazines; the issues include Lexus ads personalized with readers’ names — along the lines of “The All New 2010 RX, Now With More John Doe” — or with references to the cities where they live.

Though the project was created as a one-time venture, Lexus executives thought a reader-assembled magazine could have wide appeal for a publisher.

“When we first pitched this idea to Time Inc, one of the very first things we said to them was, we think we actually have a new business model for you, and, actually, the magazine industry,” said Paul Silverman, executive media director of Team One, Lexus’ media agency and part of the Publicis Groupe.

He said that claim might be exaggerated, “but we certainly think it’s a step in the right direction.”

But the Lexus project was not without its problems. A computer error caused subscribers to receive articles from magazines they had not chosen, and some of the articles that were included seemed outdated. To order the free magazine, readers can go to www.timecmg.com/mine and enter basic registration information. Subscribers pick five of eight magazines, like Food & Wine or Sports Illustrated, and articles from those magazines appear in their custom magazines. Readers receive several issues with an article or two from each magazine, and issues come every two weeks.

“It’s almost similar to an RSS feed or something like that, where you get a selection” of content you are interested in, said David Nordstrom, vice president for marketing at Lexus, a division of Toyota. “It’s kind of a print way of doing what people are doing on the Internet, and for us it was to say, what is a way we can reach customers in a way that’s different?”

The car ads in the magazine are customized based on the magazines each person chose and the registration responses. Someone who picked Food & Wine articles and who lives in New York might see an ad that reads “Sunrise Highway can be tricky on your way to East Hampton” and promotes that the car has cargo space for vintage wine.

Lexus paid for the magazine as it would for an advertising supplement in any Time Inc publication. Silverman declined to specify what the cost was, but said it “was not any more expensive or cost-prohibitive than any other program we’ve done in the past.”

The automaker decided not to become too focused with its ads, asking just basic questions at registration rather than for information about income level or job title.

“We’re just trying to strike a balance: to what kind of information do we need to make it personal, without going too far,” Nordstrom said. “Longer term, if you look at what’s going on with media, whether it’s interactive or behavioral targeting, especially with the younger audience, they expect you to be talking to them. They want you to talk to them as an individual. In print, it’s much harder, but to us this was an opportunity to start experimenting with it a little bit,” he said.

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