Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Lance Prucnal’s family, like others in the digital age, has canceled most of its newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

Prucnal’s wife dumped Family Circle, Taste of Home and Better Homes & Gardens because she no longer found enough interesting recipes. His daughter said goodbye to Glamour. And he didn’t renew Newsweek and The Dallas Morning News because the family was getting their general-interest news from television.

But Prucnal refuses to part with Model Railroader, Classic Trains and Classic Toy Trains. When it comes to the toy train magazines that fuel his passion, he has drawn the line.

“I would probably give up my train club before I would give up my train magazines,” said Prucnal, an employee at a Wal-Mart outside of Dallas and a Navy reservist, who spends about $120 a year on these publications. “There’s a lot of ‘how to’ articles and a lot of product news.”

Readers like Prucnal have helped hobby magazines become the darlings of the struggling magazine industry. Niche magazines continue to retain and attract loyal followings.

“Titles like Trains aren’t easily replaced,” said Andrew Davis, author of the book “Brandscaping” and a media consultant. “It’s a really passionate community with high-quality content that speaks specifically to them.”

Some high-end hobby magazines like Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado have not only experienced steady circulation growth, but have also brought in big revenue by staging special events for subscribers. Wine Spectator’s total circulation in the last decade grew 11 percent and Cigar Aficionado’s total circulation grew 1 percent, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

Other niche magazines like Cycle World and Hot Bike have achieved such strong subscription renewal rates that they have modestly expanded their editorial staff, even as large publications are trimming their ranks.

While hobby magazines may never grab the attention that a Vogue cover attracts, their publishers talk of their devoted readerships. Kevin P. Keefe, vice president of editorial and publisher at Kalmbach Publishing, which produces many of Prucnal’s favorite train magazines, said his readers were so loyal that some subscribers paid for issues through the 2030s and bought $199.95 DVD sets that let them read all of the issues in the magazine’s then 75-year history. Marvin Shanken, who owns Wine Spectator, said some subscribers pay $2.99 a month for its app while still paying $49.95 annually for website access. Then they spend $49.95 more for an annual print subscription, he said.

“For people who have a passion,” Shanken said, “they have an endless appetite.”