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E.T. Meredith
Imagine life at the beginning of the 1900s when Edwin T. Meredith launched Successful Farming magazine. The average life expectancy in the United States was 47 years. Only 8 percent of U.S. households had a telephone, and a three-minute phone call from Denver to New York cost $11. Only 14 percent of the U.S. homes had a bathtub. There were only 8,000 cars and 144 miles of paved roads. The population of Iowa was greater than California. It was a world without electricity or indoor plumbing, and farm work was done by hand and with horses. It was a time much different from today, with demand for a magazine that, as Meredith stated in the masthead of his first issue, "would stand for successful farming in the truest sense of the word....." A magazine "for the best farmers, or those who aspired to be the best farmers."

From that first 16-page issue printed on newsprint by the young Meredith in October 1902, Successful Farming became the foundation of a multi-media and publishing empire. Twenty years later, the staff of Successful Farming created Fruit, Garden and Home, a home and family service magazine that became known as Better Homes and Gardens in 1924.

Today, the Meredith stable of publications includes such noted brands as Ladies Home Journal, Country Home, Traditional Home, WOOD and Midwest Living, in addition to Successful Farming and Better Homes and Gardens. Each continues E.T. Meredith's vision of providing practical and concise information "as to be helpful in carrying out the many duties of the farm and in the home." In addition, the company produces 14 monthly titles, more than 120 special interest magazines, nearly 300 consumer book titles, including the third all-time best-selling book, the red-plaid Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook; owns 11 television stations; maintains 23 Web sites, including Agriculture Online, and maintains a database of 65 million names.

E.T. Meredith was not only a visionary publisher of his day, but an effective politician and innovative philanthropist. He established a $250,000 fund from which farm boys and girls could borrow money to start 4-H projects and helped found the National 4-H Club Congress. Meredith also served as secretary of agriculture for one year in the Wilson administration, was president of the Agricultural Publishers Association and president of the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World (later known as the International Advertising Association) and served as a director of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank.

Meredith believed so strongly in the reputation of his farm magazine and the trust readers put into its content that he personally guaranteed the goods and services of the companies that advertised in his magazine.

Tom Davis
While Successful Farming magazine in the 21st century looks much different from the early issues, its mission remains much the same, says Tom Davis, the magazine's current publisher, who's seen significant changes in the farm publishing business since he started with Meredith in 1978.

"As agriculture publishing has evolved, especially in the past 20 years, we've developed new ways to better serve our readers, our advertisers and our company," notes Davis. He says one of the most significant recent developments in publishing, and communications in general, is that of the Internet. Successful Farming was an early entrČe into the World Wide Web in May 1995 with Agriculture Online as a separate business unit of Meredith Corporation.

"The Internet's impact on traditional publishing is tremendous as the medium continues to grow and evolve," he explains. "There are great marketing synergies that exist between print and the Internet, and these opportunities are especially exciting with our two prominent brands of Successful Farming and Agriculture Online."

A second major development that Davis believes has changed the industry is selectronic binding and the challenges it creates in managing more than 3,000 versions of an issue. "This puts tremendous stress on publishing economics, editorial and distribution in a market that doesn't always want to pay a premium for customization of content and advertising for highly targeted messages. Yet, it allows us the opportunity to give readers and advertisers a more relevant and effective product."

Another recent change in the industry in the past two decades, according to Davis, has been the proliferation of free farm publications and other information providers. "We are the only major national farm publication that invests in paid circulation. We know farmers will pay for value, even though they have access to more free information today than ever before."

Why do farmers continue to buy Successful Farming with all the free information? "In a word - preference," he says. "It's about reaching the right audience and reader preference. And what better indicator of customer preference than farmers purchasing our magazine."

Loren Kruse
Ask a publisher what makes his magazine unique and he cites the numbers. Ask an editor the same question and you will get a much different answer. Loren Kruse, editor-in-chief of Successful Farming, and his editorial staff make no bones about it - it's having a direct and personal relationship with farmers and knowing what information they need and will pay for.

"Our editorial philosophy has not changed since E.T. Meredith's first issues," says Kruse. "Successful Farming is published for the farm family looking for ideas and solutions that save them time, make them money and add value to their farms and lives."

Kruse, who has studied the history of E.T. Meredith and the early years of Successful Farming, says the success of the magazine, then as now, is built on the trust of readers. "Historically, farm families trusted magazines to interpret the news and information of the day. Even now, the greatest value we provide our agrimarketing customers is the trust of our readers and the time they spend within our pages and on our Web site."

Kruse adds that tied to that trust is sharing highly useful business and production information to help producers make decisions. "We recognize that farmers are in the business of farming and we share that same passion with them. We write for the mind by going through the heart. The fact that farmers pay us proves that we are living up to our mission, which is very gratifying today in light of all the free information that exists."

With the 100th anniversary issue in October, Kruse says the magazine will be sporting an updated look, which includes a stronger, bolder cover treatment and new features that expand the magazine's unique blend of encouragement and instruction.

While not the first national farm magazine, Successful Farming has been instrumental in initiating numerous nationally prominent programs and special projects such as Farm Family Enrichment Conferences, The MAX Program, Barn Again, Pork Powerhouses, the SF Farm Index and Ageless Iron, to name a few. In the late 1980s, the company played a key role in helping launch Farm Safety 4 Just Kids.

And in keeping with the tradition that E.T. Meredith started in the early 1900s, Successful Farming has co-sponsored a national ag scholarship program the past five years, awarding 30 college scholarships each year to young men and women wishing to pursue careers in farming and agribusiness. Also, Meredith and Successful Farming continue to be major annual sponsors of 4-H and FFA.

"These programs continue E.T. Meredith's legacy of reinvesting in the industry from which we earn our livelihood," adds Loren Kruse. "It's the magazine's direct involvement with these types of programs that helps set us apart in ag publishing."

In fact, the Meredith family influence is still very much evident in Successful Farming and elsewhere around the company, according to Bill Reed, vice president and publishing director, who notes that third- and fourth-generation family members remain actively involved in the business.

"E.T. Meredith III serves as chairman of the executive committee and Mell Meredith is director of corporate planning for the company and serves on the board of directors," Reed explains. "And while both agriculture and this company have changed greatly over the past century, the fact isn't lost that Successful Farming is the original farm and home publication at Meredith. That's something that we take great pride in as we continue the tradition of communicating and building relationships with farm families."

With all of the uncertainties in publishing these days, Tom Davis concludes that there's one thing the industry can be certain of - Successful Farming will stay true to its mission of being relevant to farmers and agrimarketers. "The second century of Successful Farming is continuing the growth we've experienced in recent years. Our September 2002 issue broke a four-year ad sales record, Agriculture Online is setting new records in revenue and traffic and Living the Country Life was a financial and reader success coming out of the starting gate. We will continue to earn the trust that farmers and agrimarketers have invested in this 100-year-old brand by bringing products to the marketplace that are right for readers and right for advertisers." AM

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