IEEE Goes Mainstream

Perhaps one of the more complicated challenges in publishing is taking a trade title mainstream. Sure, there are a few trades that have transcended their industry-specific status - Variety and Billboard immediately come to mind - but most such publications don't even bother to try. Why? Try asking Wal-Mart or General Motors if they'd like to advertise in a publication aimed at operators of industrial grain elevators.

Undeterred, about five years ago IEEE Spectrum hatched a plan to lift itself out of trade-title obscurity. The idea was to make the 39-year-old magazine (the flagship title of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) more appealing to non-members by exchanging its scientific and mathematical jargon for broader examinations of electronics in society.

"The old Spectrum, it was good if you needed something to knock you out at bedtime," quips publisher/staff director Jim Vick. "What we do now is so different. Our covers play well on the newsstand. All the mathematical equations and tables are gone."



Cynics may well have scoffed at the plan - after all, Newsweek is considered heavy intellectual lifting for most magazine readers - but Spectrum seems to have pulled off the transition with aplomb. "We couldn't dumb it down and turn off the people for whom the magazine is intended," Vick explains. "But at the same time, there's so much that the society does which is interesting to people who don't come from a strict technology engineering background."

It's difficult to say that the push to add readers who don't belong to the 385,000-strong IEEE has been a slam-dunk success. After all, Spectrum counts only 20,000 non-members among its circulation of 340,000. Demographically, however, it's easy to see why the Spectrum marketing staff thinks it has a good case to present to mainstream advertisers.

The mag's average reader is a 45-year-old man with annual household income of just below $100,000 ("we're 95% male right now, but that will change as more women continue to come into engineering," Vick explains). Over 50% of Spectrum's readers boast an advanced degree, with around 30% possessing a doctorate. "We reach a level of influence - senior engineering and corporate management - that the other books do not," he adds, referring to competitors like Scientific American, Technology Review and EE Times. "We have the Edisons of today [as readers], the people who invent all the toys and sophisticated electronics."

Paging through the July issue of Spectrum, it appears that the publication has made some headway with advertisers. Many of the ads, not surprisingly, come from B-to-B players hoping to sell C-level engineering execs on their components; it's a safe bet that the United States Patent and Trademark Office isn't eagerly being pursued by, say, Lucky. Still, Xerox, Subaru and Agilent Technologies are represented on Spectrum's pages, and Vick is optimistic about being able to add top technology companies as well as manufacturers of luxury goods.

"We've carried IBM and Apple, and we're working on a lot of the typical suspects - Microsoft, Intel, HP," he notes. "We're talking to companies that make high-end titanium frame bicycles and high-end watches and to some people in the financial segment. We have a good demographic story to tell, but sometimes it's difficult to get advertisers to look at us." Limiting the mag's momentum on the marketing side is continued weakness in recruitment ads; Vick acknowledges the obvious when he says, "That money disappears when people aren't hiring."

As for the future, Vick has ambitious plans for Spectrum. He hopes to grow ad revenue from $6 million to $12 million within two or three years ("if we increase our pages modestly and improve our net revenue per page, it's a realistic goal") and wants to do more to spread the gospel to non-IEEE members.

"Non-member circulation development is expensive, so really the only thing holding us back now is money," he says candidly. "But we've proven we have a product we can market successfully."

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