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Slow Going for Ad Sales at the New Republic

The third issue of the magazine since it underwent a costly redesign by Chris Hughes landed in in-boxes of thousands of subscribers Monday.

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SLOW ROAD: The third issue of the New Republic since it underwent a costly redesign by Chris Hughes landed in in-boxes of thousands of subscribers Monday.

The nearly century-old ideas journal has never been a hit with big-time advertisers — it’s far more popular with academic presses — but with a major redesign under its belt, it seemed ready to wow marketers. Plus, the redesign had been preceded by a steady drumbeat of press about Hughes and his plans to overhaul the magazine. In its new press kit, Hughes promised he had repositioned the New Republic “to be the most prominent media brand of the 21st century.”

Even if circulation was small — 35,000 through last March, according to the magazine — Hughes’ message to advertisers was to convey the magazine’s influence and its readers’ buying power. Apparently, the White House has a standing order of 130 copies.

The problem appears to be that advertisers don’t seem to care, at least for now, how many copies of the magazine get to the White House or to Congressional offices.

The first issue of the magazine, revealed Jan. 28, carried 10 ad pages, including one house ad. Revenue for the issue must not have been significant — though advertisers included Pfizer, the sponsor of a recent panel by the magazine; there was also Harvard University Press and an online course, “The Medieval World,” which paid almost $10,000 for a full page, assuming the magazine did not offer discounts.

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The low number of ad pages is surprising because the major redesign of a magazine is usually boom time for its publisher. Plus, Hughes had made sure to shop it around the ad community, telling The New York Times, as an example, that he’d previewed the redesign issue with important car advertisers in Detroit.

The magazine could have rebounded for its next two issues. And they did, somewhat. The Feb. 25 issue carried seven full ad pages, including a house ad, and the latest, dated March 11, five ad pages, with small-time advertisers, like the University of Nevada Press, prevailing.

The New Republic doesn’t just rely on print advertising, and, in fact, its message to the ad community is to integrate their marketing with the magazine’s beefed-up online presence and redesigned Web site and tablet app. Revenue is also coming from circulation — the magazine told the Times its circulation grew by over 10,000 in less than a year to 44,177. But the weak advertising underscores the magazine’s difficult climb to reach what Hughes has said is his goal of profitability. Before he bought it, several sources said the magazine was already losing about $1 million a year after it had gone through major cost-cutting that included layoffs. That expense has almost certainly increased as Hughes has invested heavily to jolt the magazine back to life. The magazine was also hampered by putting together an editorial team before it had straightened out the business side. Jennifer Hicks, the vice president of advertising and the former publisher of Smithsonian, came on board in November, with only a few months to put together a sales team, and go out on calls. She did not respond to requests for comment.

At least some believe this might offer some hope. One major media buyer, who declined to speak on the record for fear of offending clients, said the magazine’s new redesign is strong, but it was hurt by making the rounds to the industry later than expected.

“They need salespeople in the marketplace. They don’t have feet on the street or the relationships,” the buyer said. Until they do this, the buyer said, “advertisers are taking a wait and see approach on the product and proof of performance.”