Nov 12, 2019 - Economy

The Boomers' media behemoth

Axios Visuals

AARP, formerly known as The American Association of Retired Persons, is one of the largest media companies in the country, bringing in more than $174 million annually in media-based advertising revenue, according to public filings.

"OK, millennials. But we're the people that actually have the money," Myrna Blyth, senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media, said in an interview with Axios, referencing the popular "OK, boomer" tagline that youngsters are using to poke fun at older people online.

  • The non-profit's print and digital presence makes it one of the most widely-consumed media properties in the U.S. "Our demo drives $7.1 trillion in annual economic activity each and every year," says Blyth.
Data: Magazine Media 360; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Magazine Media 360; Chart: Axios Visuals

Revenue, by the numbers: According to the association's most recent financial filings, in 2017 the company made:

  • $142 million in print advertising between its two magazines
  • $32 million in digital advertising
  • $350,000 in revenue from its video studio

By comparison, media giant Vox Media, which houses popular brands like Vox, The Verge, and Eater made around $185 million in revenue last year, per The New York Times.

  • AARP makes about $299 million annually on membership dues, which cost about $16 yearly per person. AARP has nearly 38 million members.

Audience, by the numbers: "AARP The Magazine," which is distributed bi-monthly, surpassed "People" as the most-circulated magazine in 2017.

  • AARP's other magazine, "The Bulletin," prints 10 times per year and has the 2nd-highest circulation in the country, per MRI, a leader in magazine measurement.
  • Two new newsletters, "The Girlfriend," targeted to women ages 40+ and "Sisters," targeted to African-American women, have accrued more than 400,000 subscribers in two years, says Blyth.
  • Its popular podcast "The Perfect Scam," which talks about digital scams that are often targeted at seniors, has "several hundred thousands listeners."
  • The investment AARP has made into content rivals any newsroom or major media company.
  • "We have hundreds of people, including freelancers, that work on The Magazine, The Bulletin, as well as our digital content," says Blyth. There are 115 people listed on the masthead for AARP The Magazine alone.

What's next: Like many of today's digital media companies, AARP has built a digital video studio.

  • They have more than 120,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel.
  • Their first full-length film “Care to Laugh” debuted last October at the Heartland International Film Festival.

Be smart: Similar to many other big enterprises that have invested in media, like Amazon or Apple, AARP's investment isn't just about the advertising money. It's about providing content so that it can continue to collect membership dues.

  • "We've created a media presence almost from the year we were founded in 1958," says Blyth. "It'a a huge part of way try to communicate to our members."
  • Ethel Percy Andrus, the founder of AARP, created what was then called "Modern Maturity" magazine, as a way to keep members engaged. That bi-monthly publication eventually became "AARP The Magazine" in 2002.

The big picture: Many media companies are looking to transition into the non-profit world for survival. Non-profits can accept donations while still selling advertising space, as AARP does.

  • While some non-profits have major media presences, like AARP and Smithsonian, others have struggled to maintain strong media footprints.
  • The Center for American Progress, for example, shut down its media outlet ThinkProgress, earlier this year.

Read more about the "The Future of Retirement" in an Axios special report coming this weekend. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

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