Redesigned Popular Science Sees Print and Digital Readership Surge

The magazine’s new single-topic per print issue format appears to be paying off.

By Emma Silva

Popular Science’s latest redesign appears to be paying off, sparking a surge in the brand’s traffic, newsstands sales and an overall audience growth of 31.5 percent year over year.

The magazine’s success falls under the fourth issue headed by newly appointed editor-in-chief Joe Brown (pictured), who started his position about a year ago.

Brown says that the single-topic per print issue, which was his pitch when applying for the job, has received positive feedback from PopSci readers, reflected in a significant increase in newsstand sales — particularly for the March/April issue, which sold 38.3 percent more copies than the same issue last year, according to a company statement.

Joe Brown“Magazines occupy a different place in our culture now; print can’t compete with digital media at delivering of-the-moment information. But they’re wonderful keepsakes,” Brown tells min. “Our single-topic approach allows our issues to stay relevant for longer; the goal is that if a reader picks up an issue up in 5 years, she can still enjoy the collection of stories without feeling like she’s reading something outdated.”

Brown explained that the process for the single-topic per issue format looks very different from that of traditional magazines. Instead of picking a cover based on their strongest feature, the PopSci team works backwards, first brainstorming on an issue theme, then moving to stories. After that, the editors try to narrow in on “which subjects are must-dos, which can be combined, and so on.”

With a shift to a single-topic per issue layout, PopSci also faces a significant aesthetic redesign, changing the actual look and feel of the magazine.

Pop Sci Cover“We needed a framework on which to build the central narrative of the issue; when you’re basing an entire magazine around a single idea, no matter how broad, you need to make it easy for a reader to relate no matter when they come in,” says Brown. “Visually, we tuned the look to be more timeless.”

The editorial and aesthetic redesign appears to be resonating with readers, particularly with the March/April issue, which was entirely centered on “the state of water in our world.”

“The water issue was a fantastic magazine—one of the best I’ve ever worked on, and a bar I’ll probably aspire to for the rest of my career,” Brown tells min. “There was an electric excitement coursing through the office during the making of that issue; it was crazy… the cover was a home run; our design team, in collaboration with The Voorhes really delivered.”

In addition to an increase in newsstands sales, has expanded its digital audience, with pageviews up by 58 percent year over year in June, according to a company statement.

“There is a lot of noise out there, with everyone racing to add a micro-spin on the same stories every day,” says Brown. We’ve been focused on telling original stories with original reporting and staying out of the churn. Our signal is high, and readers are picking it up.”

With a sizable digital and social presence, Brown says that the website has started to expand to its audience base.

“Over the past 8 months, we’ve shifted from 26% female readers to a split that hovers right around 50/50,” he says. “I’m really proud of that.”

Looking forward, Brown says that the PopSci team will continue to focus on quality.

“We’re going to push even harder on quality, because that’s how we define ourselves: We push harder to write better stories,” Brown tells min. “We may not be the biggest staff in media, but nobody is going to outthink, outwork, or out-hustle us—or have more fun doing it.”



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