Sports Illustrated’s 2011 Swimsuit Issue a Game-Changer for Time Inc.

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Time Inc. knows a cash cow when it sees one. And none are more bovinely bountiful (or bodacious) than the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which hits newsstands today.

As Bloomberg TV notes, it’s the Super Bowl of the publishing world, generating more than a billion dollars to date. It generates 7% of SI’s annual revenue, and its readership — surprisingly — is 30% female, with its influence impacting bikini and swimsuit trends and sales.

It’s naturally marketed to the hilt, getting a billboard in Times Square, a top ten list from David Letterman and reveal for the cover model (this year, Cristiano Ronaldo’s girlfriend, Irina Shayk) plus a closing bell-ringing ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange.

This year it’s all about mobile, the basis for a new business model for SI — and potentially Time Inc.[more]

To promote this year’s edition, SI’s marketing team is tapping mobile engagement company Nellymoser and Microsoft Tag to let readers interact with the issue on their smartphones, including voting on the class of 2012; watching behind-the-scenes video; sharing on Facebook, Twitter or email; checking out the Nissan-sponsored Model vs. Model; and other goodies.

Microsoft Tags are now placed on phone kiosks, subway posters, and outdoor signage in New York and Las Vegas.

“The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is an ideal showcase for Nellymoser’s mobile solutions.  The pictures, videos, and voting used in the campaign offer Sports Illustrated’s readers a highly engaging mobile experience,” says Nellymoser founder/CEO John Puterbaugh.

Time Inc. is also using the issue’s launch to launch a new business model. Bloomberg TV reports that Sports Illustrated is using this year’s swimsuit issue to get out of the print subscription business.

As highlighted in the video below, the magazine brand — in what will be a closely-watched test for parent Time Inc. — is moving to two models: a $48/year or $4.99/month “all-access” subscription for the print magazine and all digital content for tablets (Android only, currently) and smartphones; or $3.99/month for a digital-only subscription.

That means no more print-only magazine subscriptions will be sold; and for now, no iPad access. 

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