Publisher Hachette Filipacchi is testing a new mobile phone strategy with what may be its most colorful U.S. title: Shock magazine, home to photos of nuns practicing taekwondo and a polio-stricken dancing transvestite.
To help promote Shock, a monthly that debuted in July to chronicle bizarre and gross photographs, the French media company is offering free picture downloads in a marketing blitz aimed at its target audience of 18- to 24-year-old men.
They are always out and about, Olivier Griot, who heads up mobile operations at Hachette's U.S. division, said of Shock's readers. They always have their phone with them.
Shock's campaign is aimed at students attending about 100 U.S. colleges. It includes cable television advertising and student promoters, but the key is offering mobile users free daily photos and encouraging them to share with friends.
Eventually, Hachette aims to support the service with advertising. It will also charge $2.95 each for photos that can be used as phone screen wallpaper.
In addition, Hachette plans mobile features for titles such as Car and Driver and Elle, Griot said.
Like many magazine publishers, Hachette is grappling with falling newsstand sales as more readers migrate to the Web. Recent figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show a 4.4 percent drop in U.S. magazine newsstand sales in the first six months of 2006, compared with a year earlier.
More magazines now use the Internet to attract and keep readers, though they have been slower to develop cell phone plans than TV networks or film studios.
A spokeswoman for Time Warner Inc.'s Time Inc. said it offers mobile phone downloads for Sports Illustrated and People. Hearst Corp., publisher of Marie Claire and Esquire, also said it has mobile plans but declined to provide details.
The Magazine Publishers of America is starting a program to supply free, one-year electronic subscriptions for titles to students of subjects from engineering to fashion to business.
Shock's college promotion comes after its editors toned down the magazine's content. Some photos, such as a series of pictures of a rotting corpse, proved too shocking and caused some retailers to pull Shock from their shelves.
The first issue sold 90,000 copies, or 30 percent of what was printed, which spokeswoman Anne Janas said matches company expectations. But several magazine experts said at $1.99 a copy, Shock's first-month result was average at best.
Going mobile could work in its favor. According to MMetrics, which monitors mobile phone trends, men aged 18 to 24 are most likely to get information from their phones.
The cell phone ad market is small, but generates interest among media companies, said Mary Ann O'Loughlin of Ovum, a London-based research firm that expects U.S. mobile advertising to grow to $1.3 billion by 2010 from about $45 million now.
But Lori Rosen, president of the Rosen Group media public relations firm, was skeptical. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I say build your reader base ... If you have a good base and good brand recognition, then start adding these different layers.