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Saturday Evening Post delivers new look, audience

Joan SerVaas publisher The Saturday Evening Post holds current featuring redesign aimed doubling readership. | AP photo/The Indianapolis Star

Joan SerVaas, publisher of The Saturday Evening Post, holds a current featuring a redesign aimed at doubling readership. | AP photo/The Indianapolis Star

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Test your I.Q.

What illustrator is synonymous with the Saturday Evening Post?

The Saturday Evening Post for many years was a major player in U.S. media, publishing original stories by William Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and on and on.

The magazine’s famously folksy covers were iconic: The Post made Norman Rockwell.

The old buzz — 6 million subscribers — died away decades ago, and in a tough economy, the magazine’s readership is flat. Revenue is down. Today, just breaking even would be terrific.

Now comes an attempted turnaround — a redesign aimed at doubling readership and restoring vibrancy to the Post, which has been published in Indianapolis since 1970, but soon will move its staff to Philadelphia.

Its new look, which targets baby boomers, debuted in the January/ February issue. On the cover: Shirley MacLaine, 78, who later this week appears as a character on the PBS hit series “Downton Abbey.”

“The important thing is to get (the Post) to be part of the national conversation,” said Steven Slon, a publishing industry veteran who was recently named the Post’s associate publisher. “I want to hear people saying: ‘Did you read that article in The Saturday Evening Post?’ ”

The effect he’s shooting for: “Vanity Fair meets Smithsonian.”

The upcoming issue, Slon’s first in his new position, although he began consulting with the Post in 2010, features an illustration of a frisky-seeming, fortyish-looking MacLaine alongside a tagline promising readers they’ll learn her views on “love, laughter & when to quit yoga.”

“It has been a long time since the Post put celebrities on the cover,” Slon said. “Now we’re entering a long phase of celebrities, either on the cover or at least interviews inside.”

Slon’s cover-folk wish list: Alan Alda, David Letterman, Jay Leno, the original “Saturday Night Live” cast, Dick Van Dyke, Roseanne Barr, the Smothers brothers, Goldie Hawn.

A fresh look

Graphically, the magazine’s iconic, old-timey logo has been altered to emphasize “Post” and downplay “Saturday Evening,” Saturday evening having long ago ceased being a time people set aside for magazine reading.

The magazine’s would-be turnaround comes at a hard time for print magazines. “You look at some of them, and they’re having difficulties,” said media consultant Jack W. Perry. “With The Saturday Evening Post being more featurey, it’ll have a longer shelf life, which could certainly help it.”

A new battle for readers

Joan SerVaas is the Post’s CEO and publisher. It is she who’s behind the magazine’s new direction. “I need to get subscribers,” she said. “The magazine needs to stand on its own.”

The goal: to double the number of subscribers in five years, to 750,000, and to charge more for subscriptions, which now cost $9.95 a year.

“I’ve got the right people, and we’re set to go,” Joan SerVaas said.

She refers to Slon, Media Industry News’ editor of the year in 2010 and formerly editor of AARP, the Magazine.

A return to its roots

The new Post returns to its roots as a general-interest publication — celebrity profiles, recipes and in-depth pieces on serious topics, such as prison reform.

But it will continue to cover health news, the upcoming issue containing a long piece on the placebo effect. The reason there is to keep current subscribers, who’ve come to expect it. There are still 350,000 paid subscribers, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

Most Post readers are in the South and Midwest, and Slon pledged to keep the magazine’s “Midwest sensibility.”

Even though he and his five-person editorial staff will soon relocate, the SerVaases will continue to own the magazine, and they will remain in Indianapolis. They also publish three magazines for children.

The Indianapolis Star



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