Should I Advertise in… Magazines

Magazines aren't as common as they once were. We explore if they're a worthwhile marketing investment, and things to keep in mind when advertising.

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As part of our ongoing effort to help businesses find the best return on investment for their marketing budget, we’ve asked whether or not the Yellow Pages is a great place to spend money, and have provided some thoughts on online search ads. The premise of these posts is that if a company has a limited marketing budget (which all companies should have some form of marketing budget), where would you find a good return on your dollars spent?

Every day, small business owners get peppered with offers from various companies promising results for advertising. We’re taking a hard, unbiased look at all of these various venues, and offering our opinion on each. So, without any more exposition…

Should I Advertise in Magazines?


On Magazines and Publications

Magazines were a once-thriving industry and there was a magazine for every hobby, career, sport, passion and more. And for good reason – these used to be the primary way of publishing niche-specific stories, information, and advertising. If you sold air-soft rifles, you had better be in the latest issue of West Coast Air Rifle Hobbyist. These days, due to the internet, it’s increasingly difficult to survive as a very, very niche publication, or a very broad and non-specific publication, due to the accessibility of information online. For years now, we’ve heard of the death of magazines (and newspapers), and indeed, the number of publications failing in the last couple decades or so has been alarming. Personally, I worked for a publisher that produced four different publications that went out of business in 2008, and had two other publications that I helped produce go out of business around the same time.

But that’s not all the news. Today, there are actually a lot of great publications doing fairly well these days. Publishers who specialized and found a great niche, publishers who were on the forefront of incorporating the web, and national publications that were able to persist and take over market share, are doing fairly well.

Categorizing Publications

The first thing I want to do to determine if magazine ads are a good spend is categorize them by their target markets and audience. There are, in my opinion, three main types of magazines: national distributions, niche publications, and advertorials.

National Distributions – these include the Time Magazines of the world. Anything that’s broadly categorized with a focus on long-form journalism, and distributed to a wide audience without focus on any particular niche.

Niche Publications – a magazine that focuses on a very narrow topic. Hobby magazines, food magazines, local-specific magazines and more. These have very specific audiences and the topics usually revolve around the one niche.

Advertorials – these are the magazines that are distributed to your mailbox. Page after page of ads – little focus on content and made strictly to sell ad space. Think home guides or home improvement magazines.

National Distributions

These magazines offer a HUGE audience to get your ad in front of. If you can get your ad in front of millions of people, that’s good, right? Sure, for example, People magazine had 3,418,555 subscribers in 2017. But what you have to think about is out of those millions, how many are actually interested in your product? Unless you’re a huge national company with a popular product, I’d guess not too many. And weighing that with the cost – the larger ones don’t publish their rates, but back in 2013, a media kit for the New York Times Magazine quoted rates of up to $100,000 per page! The return on investment usually just isn’t there. And again, this post is written with the premise that you’re a small business with a limited budget, so national distributions are likely not the best spend.

Niche Publications

Where national distributions have a broad audience, niche publications narrow it down to, usually, just one very specific topic. They’re typically not nearly as widely distributed, but have much more engaged readers. These come in the form of industry-specific magazines, region-specific magazines (I just recently grabbed a copy of a local magazine, Sacramento Magazine, and it’s doing awesome at 140-ish pages these days), or hobbyist/lifestyle type magazines. These offer articles related to a specific genre, and its advertisers usually sell something related to the subject. And the costs of niche publications – for advertisers – is substantially different. You can get an ad from $500 to a few thousand. There may be a value to be found if you have a magazine that would be a perfect pairing for your business – an engaged audience and an affordable cost.


You see these magazines distributed free straight to your mailbox, or those magazine boxes labeled “free” alongside a retail center. They’re home guides, car listings, home improvement services ads, and the like. The content inside these is very highly weighted towards ads, have articles that are clearly ads, and some forgo articles altogether. They make their money not on subscriptions, but by advertising only. I suspect they have their roots in a time when it was difficult to find listings for services, or various high-priced items, as an alternative to other forms of advertising like the phone book. I honestly looked for advertising rates but couldn’t find a good sample size. I’ve seen media kits showing rates in the several thousands, and have personally been offered ads for under $1,000. The question that really determines how it would work for you is if your product of service fits one of these niches, and the value of a sale covers the cost. And sometimes, for instance if you’re a real estate agent, you have to advertise not to sell the listing, but to satisfy the demands of your seller.

So, Should I Advertise in Magazines?

This question really is determined by your business and your target market. If you own a cool local venue, then maybe a local niche publication would work for you. If you sell wine-related accessories, then maybe a wine magazine might be a good fit. But, according to the premise of this post, I’d stay away from national distributions, as the cost is prohibitive. I always look at marketing from a ROI perspective – will you make back more than you spend, including the time and cost to design the ad, the call tracking setup costs, and more. And, in the case of advertorials, I may be a little bit biased since I’m in the internet generation, but I think there is much better value to reach their specific markets online. My generation doesn’t use those types of magazines.

Maybe, in the right niche.

A few things to note when running an ad in a magazine:

  • Get a copy of the ad specs and follow them – nothing is worse than an ad that is the wrong size or resolution – and if you run it in a magazine that isn’t careful or doesn’t care, your ad will look pretty poor.
  • Use a professional graphics designer – having a slick, clean and attractive ad goes a long way. If you have a set company brand, follow it, and if not, make sure the design is compelling and stands out.
  • Always use a call tracking number – you need to track the effectiveness of your ad, and you can’t do that if you’re not monitoring when calls come in from the magazine as opposed to other sources.
  • Negotiate your prices – the media kit should be looked at as a guide. You can almost always negotiate a better advertising rate.
  • Ask for online advertising as well – every magazine worth its salt has a website these days. Ask what the cost of packaging your ad with something online is – even if it’s just a link, it’s better than nothing.
  • Get distribution and demographic stats – in researching whether or not the magazine is a good fit, make sure their distribution is sufficient to return enough views on your ad, and the right target audience as well.

Here at Nowspeed, we have a ton of experience with magazines and advertisements (I personally began my career at one such publication), so don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about a magazine you’re considering advertising in – we’d be happy to provide some insight, help build an ad, or answer any other questions you may have!

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