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Time Inc. tests custom magazine

Trial allows ads to target readers

Time Inc. plans a 10-week trial of mine. Time Inc. plans a 10-week trial of mine. (Time Inc. via Associated Press)
Associated Press / March 18, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - Time Inc. is experimenting with a customized magazine that combines reader-selected sections from eight publications as it tries to mimic in printed form the personalized news feeds that have become popular on the Internet.

Called mine, the five-issue, 10-week experiment also aligns readers with the branding message that its sole advertising partner, Toyota Motor Corp., has for its new Lexus 2010 RX sport utility vehicle: It's as customizable as the magazine carrying its ads.

The magazine is free, but the print edition is limited to the first 31,000 respondents, while an online version is available for another 200,000.

Sign-ups are available at www.timeinc.com/mine, with the first issue to be mailed in April, and then once every two weeks. Online subscribers will get digital editions that look like the printed version, but in a format that allows virtual page turns. A promotional push for the magazine kicks off Friday.

Readers can select five titles from eight published by subsidiaries of Time Warner Inc. and American Express Co.: Time, Sports Illustrated, Food & Wine, Real Simple, Money, In Style, Golf, and Travel + Leisure.

Editors will preselect the stories that make it into every biweekly issue, and readers won't have the option of changing the picks from issue to issue.

There are 56 editorial combinations in all (the Lexus SUV has 22 customizable settings, plus eight options handled by a dealer). Those who fill out an online survey will also find that ads fit their personal circumstances in a form of hyper-targeting.

A sample ad tagline for a respondent named Dave, who lives in Los Angeles and eats sushi, might read: "Hey Dave, your friends will be really impressed when you drive down Van Ness Avenue on your way to get sushi."

Lexus, which came up with the idea, will be the lone advertiser and will buy four full pages of ads for each 36-page magazine.

"I wouldn't call this an ad, this goes much beyond this," said David Nordstrom, Lexus's vice president of marketing. "Our message of 'driver-inspired' and 'customization' will come through a lot stronger."

Nordstrom said the venture did not cost more than other ad campaigns. He suggested that the potentially higher costs of individualized printing would be worth it if the ads got a better response from a greater number of readers. Both companies plan extensive research on how consumers react.

Time Inc.'s president of ad sales and marketing, Stephanie George, said the magazine strikes the right balance between reader choice, advertising, and the company's editorial control.

The mine experiment represents the latest effort by traditional media organizations to appeal to readers increasingly accustomed to picking what they read on the Internet. Online advertising, though growing, hasn't generated enough revenue to offset declines in print; personalized print products could help fill some of the gap.

This summer, MediaNews Group, publisher of The Denver Post, the San Jose Mercury News, and other newspapers, plans to experiment with its own reader-created publication.

Readers will be allowed to choose specific stories, or those by author, keyword, or subject. The customized publication will be laid out like a newspaper and sent with targeted advertisements as a digital "PDF" file for printing at home or viewing on computers or mobile phones.

Joshua Benton, director of Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab, remained skeptical of the ventures.

In Time's case, for example, the use of one advertiser does not allow for targeted marketing the way Google has succeeded with matching ads to a user's search terms or a site's content.

In other words, Lexus won't be selling golf balls and khaki pants even if a reader's editorial picks signal an interest in those products.

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