Costco's Surprisingly Large-Circulation Magazine

Quick: What is the largest-circulation print monthly in these United States?  If your answer is Costco Connection, you’re correct. Domestically, the pub has 8.6 million subscribers -- and millions more when Canada, United Kingdom, Taiwan, Korea, and recently added editions for Australia and Japan are part of the mix, according to Ginnie Roeglin, who has been its publisher for the last 16 years.

Costco Wholesale doesn't break out revenue numbers for its magazine, but Roeglin allows that it is profitable, and circulation has experienced steady growth for more than a decade.  Talk about a content marketing powerhouse from the nation's second largest retailer after Walmart.

If you happen to be a Costco Connection subscriber, like me, you know it's part of the package for those who are either business ($55 a year) or executive ($110) members. If you're not familiar with the magazine, it’s an amalgam of  service-related articles about everything from home improvement to recipes and celebrity features, all wrapped around a lot of advertisements, along with (naturally) coupons for  Costco merchandise and the retailer's suppliers.  



The March issue's cover story features “Wild”’s Reese Witherspoon. Inside are pieces on vacuum cleaners and, ironically, a how-to article about content marketing for small businesses. 

Don't look for Costco Connection to win any design plaudits or  National Magazine Awards, but it does serve a large, affluent, and loyal constituency. “We do consciously try and keep our editorial service-oriented without being too self-serving,” says Roeglin. 

While about 90% of the magazine’s advertising is co-op, increasingly national advertisers such as Procter & Gamble are buying space, notes Roeglin -- presumably because of the pub’s gargantuan reach and the data it has on its subscribers (whose average household income is $156,000 a year). ”We see about 56% of our subscribers a month buy something at one of our stores based on something they've read in the magazine,” says Roeglin.

In addition to being Costco Connection’s publisher, Roeglin, a 25-year veteran of the lean, mean big-box retailer, is senior vice president of e-commerce and publishing, overseeing Costco Travel. She says there's been steady growth of subscribers to the pub’s free app, available in the Apple and Googe stores: “We've got hundreds of thousands, but we haven't broken a million yet.”  

Many publishers are predicting the death of print due to ever-increasing postage and printing costs. Indeed, those costs make the print edition of Costco Connection too expensive to be part of the Costco basic membership package.  Still, Roeglin believes that “Costco Connection” will grow in print for the foreseeable future. “We are constantly reaching out to our readers to see if they'd prefer [a digital publication],” she says.  “But they overwhelmingly like the print version.”

Costco has been much in the news of late. Last week it made headlines casting off American Express, its longtime credit card partner, for Visa. It also just reported a 29% rise in first-quarter earnings. More than 90% of its members renewed last year, and its international expansion expands apace. Still, Costco’s proprietorship of the largest-circulation magazine in America  is never part of the  headlines.

That's fine with Roeglin. Other parts of her domain may cause her to lose sleep now and then, but “never Costco Connection.”

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