How important is design in a niche publication?

I’ve mentioned before my full-time job is art-directing a high-end audio enthusiast magazine. When I came onboard, the magazine was a mess in terms of consistency and general readability, as well as attractiveness. The previous art director had too much work to do on several publications and couldn’t devote the time necessary to get the magazine to where it needed to be. When the redesign took place, there was quite a response from the readers, some negative, some positive. But it makes me wonder just how much value the reader places on the look of a magazine, especially a niche publication with a smaller core audience. When they’ve put up with sub-par layout for so long (twenty years in this case), how do you measure the importance of changing the look of the magazine, and how do you justify the cost? What are your goals? With us, it was to become consistent, more high-end looking, and to attract a new audience, as well as making the magazine easier to read for the existing readership. Obviously if your editorial content is compelling, you’ll draw in readers, provided they actually see the magazine. I guess my question is, how do you measure the success of a re-design? A comparison of advertising sales to the pevious years? Reader response? Subscription rates or newsstand sales? A mixture of all of the above?

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One Comment on “How important is design in a niche publication?”

  1. Media Burp Says:

    Yep it’s a tough question and design is such a subjective thing. You have to measure the effects on your core commercial goals, and for (nearly) all publishers this is profit.

    So, as long as advertisers like the look of the mag the main aim will be to improve circulation which in turn means more ads.

    Unfortunately the design of most magazines produced by the big media owners are so standardized they lack personality and IMHO, any real design attributes at all.

    It’s lucky there are sitll some good indies doing cool things – have a look at http://www.mustardweb.org/ – I think it’s gorgeous =)


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