From “nice to have” to “must have”: Scientific American’s Bruce Brandfon recipe for success

August 12, 2009

cover_2009-08What if some one tells you that the 21st century starts on Jan. 1, 2010? Well, you have to be stupid not to stop and listen to what that some one has to say. That is exactly what happened during my breakfast with Bruce Brandfon, Vice President and Publisher of Scientific American magazine, in New York City earlier in the week. Bruce’s comment reminded me with what Charles Overby said in his speech at the AEJMC’s convention last Friday that the last decade in the newspaper business was the lost decade.

Bruce told me that the reason he believes the 21st century starts January 1, 2010 “is because this first decade has been like stumbling in the dark clinging to the 20th century behavior. We woke up collectively when our 401k lost a major chunk of their value; when our kids graduated from college to find no jobs, and our business model collapsed…”

So I asked him, what do we need to do to prepare for the 21st century? His answer was three fold:

1. Deliver the most highly desirable, differentiated and satisfying content… If you are not different, the consumers will have harder time making a decision to pick you up… We are changing from nice to have, to must have.
2. Need to be able to justify for the other revenue stream, i.e. the advertiser, that you can deliver prospects who are involved in the content and not tricked into getting the content (like getting a one year’s sub for a dollar or five dollars). Your value proposition must be very clear.
3. You should be able to justify a premium price of whatever and wherever we are selling content…digital, print, etc. In your subject area you have to be dominant…no room left for middle of the way.

So what is needed to do all of the above? In Bruce’s book, we need two main ingredients:

1. Innovation: How to do every thing better… we have not innovated enough.
2. Sustainability: How to sustain the businesses we are involved in?

On the news front, Bruce told me “that starting with the January issue Scientific American is dropping its rate base to 450,000 from 575,000. The drop is 100% based on the decision to stop the direct mail method of acquiring new subscribers. It used to take 2 to 3 years to make any money on a new subscriber, now it is 7 to 8 years. Our new rate base will represent the loyal subscribers who renew at a phenomenal percentage and our 100,000 copies we sell at the newsstands.”

In addition to that, as of September 1 all feature articles on line will go behind a pay wall. People visiting the magazine’s web site via Google or other search engines will be able to see the first article for free, a synopsis of the second article and an invitation to subscribe or buy the digital edition.

His final words of wisdom for the day were, “We need to be THE THING for our audience. We need to create the BEST Scientific American yet.” Amen to that!


  1. […] From “nice to have” to “must have”: Scientific American’s Bruce Brandfon recipe for succes… […]

  2. Great content! Thanks!

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