A review of popular birding magazines

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Subscribers to Birder’s World magazine may be surprised when the April issue of the magazine arrives. It has a new name — BirdWatching.

After more than 24 years in print as Birder’s World, it seems a significant change, so I asked editor Chuck Hagner why a new name for an established magazine.

“We wanted a simple name that communicates the contents of the magazine instantly, a name readers will understand in a second,” he explained. “BirdWatching welcomes all birdwatchers, from backyard birders to world travelers, from beginners to experts.”

There are also editorial changes accompanying the name change that can be seen at www.birdwatchingdaily.com. The name change is an attempt to broaden the appeal of BirdWatching.

Titles

The news of this name change got me thinking about the other three popular birding magazines — BirdWatchers Digest (BWD, www.birdwatchersdigest.com), BirdWatching (BW), WildBird (WB, www.wildbirdmagazine.com), and Living Bird (LB, www.birds.cornell.edu/Publications).

The details that follow come from a review of the most recent issue of all four magazines. WildBird (full size, 50 pages, 31.3 percent advertising) is the entry level magazine geared primarily to backyard birders. BirdWatcher’s Digest (digest size, 130 pages, 25 percent ads) is filled with items for beginning birders, informational columns, and travel pieces from around the world.

BirdWatching (full size, 68 pages, 31.1 percent ads) is the coffee table magazine, filled with superb color photos and informative articles. Living Bird (full size, 48 pages, 28.9 percent ads) is a bit more scholarly; it dabbles in natural history, travel, conservation, and humor.

Further analysis of the advertising in these magazines helps confirm the target readership.

BirdWatcher’s Digest allocates 25 percent (32.5 pages of 130 pages) to advertising in the March/April 2011 issue. Most of that goes to self-promotion (35.4 percent) — ads for subscriptions to BWD and six full pages for the BWD Nature Shop.

Travel and equipment

The other big segment of advertising in BWD is travel — birding festivals and destinations (29 percent) and birding tours (3.8 percent). Feeders, food, books, and electronics account for 19 percent of the ads.

And optical equipment such as binoculars and cameras came in at 10.8 percent of ad space. BirdWatching clearly targets the traveling birder — 51.5 percent of its ads feature birding festivals and destinations, 12 percent focus on birding tours, and 14.2 percent feature optics and photography equipment.

Books account for another 11.8 percent of advertising space, and most of that is allocated to two full pages for the new Crossley ID Guide. WildBird advertisers focus on backyard activities.

A full one-third of advertising space targets optics and photography, 16 percent features books, and 12.5 percent focuses on feeders and food. Only 18 percent of WB ad space features festivals and destinations (16 percent) and birding tours (2 percent).

Living Bird advertisers offer optics and photography (40 percent), perhaps because editor Tim Gallagher brings his photographer’s eye to the pages. Travel is also big in LB; festivals and destination account for 19.3 percent of the ad pages, and birding tours add another 16.8 percent.

About cost?

Another important variable when shopping for bird magazines is cost. Annual retail subscription price varies from $19.97 (WB, bimonthly) and $19.99 (BWD, bimonthly) to $29.95 (BW, bimonthly) and $40 (LB, quarterly).

LB is included in membership to the Lab of Ornithology and is just one benefit of membership.

A quick review of the content and cost of birding magazines from 20 years ago is also interesting:

• BWD page count is down 4.4 percent, subscription cost is up 33 percent.

• BW’s page count is down 15 percent, cost is up 20 percent.

• WB’s page count is down 34 percent, cost has remained the same. But 20 years ago, WB was a monthly publication, so its cost has actually doubled.

• LB’s page count is up 26 percent, and cost is up 33 percent. Which birding magazine is best depends on your interests. I subscribe to three of them, and I recommend all four.

Another publication

Conspicuously absent from this analysis is Birds & Blooms (www.birdsandblooms.com, $12.98 for six issues per year.

I did not include it because it covers birds and gardening, and it includes ads for unrelated products such as prescription drugs.

Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or by email via my web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com.

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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