Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A stimulus plan that worked

No buyers.

Declining revenues.

An unhappy board of directors.

Malaise. Dreariness. Threats of layoffs.

Such was the situation facing an enterprise in the early 1960s.

You can't get the news if nobody pays for you to receive it.

What you pay for your news covers, oh, maybe 10% of the cost to deliver it. The rest is paid for by advertising. This is true for newspapers, magazines, television, radio, internet, you name it.

Our precious NPR? Yes, your subscriptions mean alot. And foundation giving is crucial. But without the increasingly unsubtle "commercial supporters", NPR wouldn't survive.

A new magazine launched in 1954. Sports Illustrated it was called. The first issue was launched on August 16, 1954. It featured the good, strong, clean Eddie Matthews of the Milwaukee Braves at bat.

Sports Illustrated was conceived as a visual showcase of sports. Using the best photographers of Time, Life and the rest of the world, amazing pictures of amazing athletes was the strategy and the execution. And it worked.

Except for February. The sports world stops in February. Especially in the early 1960s. There was no Superbowl. The Pro Bowl had been played in mid-January. Spring training didn't start till the end of the month. No golf majors. No tennis majors.

So, the enterprising editors at SI sat on the floor with their shoes off and pondered a very long month with nothing to sell their readers or advertisers.

And then, the swimsuit issue was conceived.

I know quite alot about this because I wrote a lengthy research paper on it in 1975 at the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. Our topic was "An event that changed the nature of journalism".

I could have studied the invention of broadcast journalism. I could have studied the H.L Mencken's of the world. I could have researched the future and how the internet would change everything.

But no. The swimsuit issue was my topic.

Oh, the hours spent in the library going thru all those back issues. The crawling thru newsstands looking for lost covers. This was real research. And it paid off. Beautifully.

Not only did I get a glowing review by my professor, I became the envy of my roommates and peers in class.

The swimsuit issue became a huge hit. The largest revenue producing issue for Sports Illustrated. A huge profit maker for Time-Life. It has funded that magazine and kept it on the forefront of sports journalism.

No government monies were relied upon. No laws were bent or broken. No Ponzi schemes. No derivatives. Just good old American entrepeurship.

Thanks, Sports Illustrated. You saved yourself. You showed the world. You saved February.

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