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Special issues… who needs them!

07-May-2002
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Special issues… who needs them!

Minita Kumar

Publications face many challenges not the least of which is to maintain a competitive advantage. Business houses venturing into publishing have met diverse destinies. While some have had an extremely short life, there are others whose providence remains quite vague. And finally there are the ones that have done great despite the hard-luck the era has to offer.

Outlook, for example, has done great in the past. Ditto for Business Today. One trend that both the publications seem to follow is that of special issues that both of them have been coming up with at regular intervals. In fact, this seems to be the case in most of the success stories. So what is it with successful publications and special issues that clicks?

"The primary objective of a special issue is reader''''s interest. The differentiating factor between a regular issue and a special issue is the superior editorial quality that a special issue imbibes", says R Rajmohan, Vice President, Ad Sales, Outlook. Many times special issues are brought out at important times for a publication; an anniversary for example. Then there are other times when they are based on certain themes that are of some interest to the readers. For example, Outlook came up with an issue ''''10 Things To Cheer About In 2001'''', a theme that was so apt at a time when nothing was going right all over the world.

The fact that competition for eyeballs is so fierce, calls for every publication to create some augmentation. What special issues do is, give a publication some impetus and in the process drive it towards greater attention from readers and hence media planners.

Let us look at the ad-edit ratio of Business Today over a span of 5 issues.

ISSUE OF BUSINESS TODAY NO. OF PAGES NO. OF ADVERTISEMENTS AD-EDIT RATIO(approx.)
FULL PAGE DOUBLE PAGE
Nov. 25, 01 136 20 4 1 : 6
Dec. 23, 01 128 24 3 1 : 5
Jan. 20, 02 Tenth Anniversary Issue 242 61 9 1 : 3.5
Feb. 3, 02 112 17 2 1 : 5.9
March 17, 02 132 26 6 1 : 4.1

The ad-edit ratio of a special issue is reasonably higher than the regular issue. While the number of pages went up by more than 1.5 times in the special issue, the number of full page ads and double page ads went up by more than 2.5 times and 3 times respectively. What can be easily seen is that the number of ads in a special issue, shoot up more than the number of editorial pages.

One trend that has been seen is that the issue succeeding the special issue sees a sudden steep drop in the number of ads. Says R Rajmohan, "Yes, there is a steep drop in ads in the issue succeeding the special issue, but that is of little concern for us. The numbers come back to normal in the next issues."

The fact that the ultimate concern of any special issue is the reader, gives us something to ponder. Only if the edit is appropriate will it appeal to the reader. And only if the reader is appropriate will it appeal to the media planner. So, is this the reason why a special issue carries more ads than a regular issue? Says Satyajit Sen, Associate Vice President, Media Planning, Grey Worldwide, "Special issues of publications definitely carry more weightage, not only for the reader, but also for the media planner. A special issue, in a way would be more of a collector''''s item and therefore the retention of these issues is fairly high. So, although the clutter in these issues if lofty, the OTS goes up considerably due to the retention value and hence its importance to any planner."

But how does a planner make a decision whether to use a particular issue in his media plan? "A special issue is important for a publication because it is a sort of a celebration time for them. So, if it is a good publication, worthy of a planner''''s attention, it would definitely be used in a media plan."

So, what is the verdict? Well, needless to say, special issues do generate excitement; little or more depends on the publication it is attached to and definitely the content it carries. There is something in them for all, the publication, the media planners and not to forget, the readers, who are the reason the entire effort seems worthwhile.

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