Its best-known publications are The Kiplinger Letter, a weekly business and economic forecasting periodical for people in management, and the monthly Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. The total paid circulation of its periodicals exceeds 850,000, and its Web site, Kiplinger.com receives nearly 1.2 million unique visits per month (spring 2010).
Through syndication, its personal finance content is regularly featured on the home pages of such portals as AOL, Yahoo and MSN. It also appears each Sunday in The Washington Post and on washingtonpost.com. Kiplinger also provides custom publishing services to a variety of companies and associations.
Started in 1920 by a former AP economics reporter, Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc., is a closely held company managed for more than eight decades by three generations of the Kiplinger family—founder W. M. Kiplinger (1891-1967), who served as editor in chief of all publications; his son Austin H. Kiplinger (b. 1918), today editor emeritus and non-executive board chair; and Austin's sons Todd L. Kiplinger (1945-2008), vice chair and vice president for investments, and Knight A. Kiplinger (b. 1948), editor in chief and president.1
In 2001 Kiplinger received one of the three American Business Ethics Awards given nationally that year by the Society of Financial Service Professionals.2 In 2007 and 2008 it was named "one of America's most ethical companies” by Ethisphere magazine. Judges in both competitions cited Kiplinger's long tradition of progressive employee relations, profit sharing, and business practices.3 In 2010, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) named Kiplinger’s Personal Finance the winner of its 2009 General Excellence Award for giant magazines (circulation of 500,000 and higher).
Unusual among modern media companies, the Kiplinger organization is run by its editorial leadership—senior executives whose careers are rooted in journalism, rather than the business side of publishing (such as advertising and circulation sales). Like the founder, both Austin and Knight Kiplinger had extensive experience in daily journalism (newspapers and broadcast news, respectively) before joining the Kiplinger organization, and they have continued to report, write and edit.
Unlike most other publishers, Kiplinger answers the queries of its readers as a regular feature of their subscriptions, filling requests for additional information on any subject its publications covers, by phone, mail or email.
Like most large-circulation magazine publishers, Kiplinger has been experiencing a shift of advertiser support from its printed publications to its Web site, which has grown significantly in traffic and ad impressions in recent years.4 Kiplinger.com was honored in 2007 and '08 as a finalist or winner in several competitions (MIN 's Best of the Web, EPpy and Webby Awards) for content and design.5
The Kiplinger Letter
With a paid circulation, in print and on line combined, of 135,000 (June 2010), The Kiplinger Letter is considered the most widely read business forecasting periodical in the world (annual subscription price: $117).
Its subscribers include people in the management of for-profit and non-profit enterprises, both large and small---businesses, government agencies, universities and schools, trade associations, unions, etc. In four pages of text each week, the Letter tries to alert its clients to what is likely to happen in business and the economy, legislation and regulation in Washington and the state, demographics, technology, world affairs, politics and investing. The Letter is nonpartisan and does not advocate for or against any particular outcome or point of view.6
Launched in 1923, The Kiplinger Letter pioneered a terse, colloquial writing style in which the key points of each topic are underscored for easy scanning. In a technique W. M. Kiplinger devised and dubbed "sweep-line," each line of copy—the full width of the page—ends in hard punctuation (a period or comma) at the right margin, not breaking awkwardly to wrap around to the next line.
While not the first widely read newsletter of modern times (a distinction that belongs to the now-defunct Whaley-Eaton American Letter, begun in 1918),7 The Kiplinger Letter is credited by historians of journalism with creating the highly condensed, telegraphic style that was widely imitated during the newsletter publishing boom of the 20th century, which saw the creation of several thousand newsletters on specialized subjects.
The Kiplinger Letter rose to prominence, and experienced strong circulation growth, during the Great Depression, when W. M. Kiplinger and his staff had very good contacts within FDR’s "brain trust", enabling the Letter to give its readers very accurate early warning of key programs in the New Deal that would transform the American economy.8
None of the various Kiplinger letters quotes or cites its sources, both to save space and to encourage sources to speak candidly without the risk of being identified in print. However, in longer versions of similar stories written for Kiplinger.com, sources may be identified and quoted, if they wish.
Like all business forecasters, The Kiplinger Letter has a mixed record of hits and misses over eight decades. Its longevity as a widely read publication—and its high annual renewal rate (85+% after three years)--suggest a strong track record of accuracy. Longtime readers in management apparently find it to be useful in their business planning and generally on-target with key trends—business cycles, interest rates and inflation, government policies, commodity prices, etc.
The Letter tends to be skeptical of euphoric investment booms, such as the dot.com and high-tech surge that sent the stock market to record highs in the late '90s, before a brutal plunge into bear market territory. On March 10, 2000—just a few days after the Nasdaq set a new record above 5,000—the Letter declared, "Today's market in tech stocks is a dangerous speculative bubble, as foolish as any in history." It urged taking some gains and rebalancing into blue chip stocks.
Conversely, the Letter has often rebutted the deep public pessimism that is prevalent during recessions and bear markets, urging business managers and investors to place their bets on the likelihood of a strong recovery. Such advice—offered during U.S. recessions in 1982, 1991 and 2002—was later validated by robust economic growth and rising equity markets.
While not primarily a political analysis newsletter, The Kiplinger Letter has correctly predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1924—including exceptionally close races in 1960, 1976 and 2000—with the notable exception of the 1948 contest between incumbent Harry S Truman and GOP challenger Thomas Dewey.
Kiplinger said Dewey would win easily and get reelected in 1952. The Kiplinger Magazine created a special issue—mailed to subscribers before election day—titled "What Dewey Will Do." The fact that Kiplinger had plenty of company in its faulty prediction was no consolation to editor in chief W. M. Kiplinger, who apologized to his subscribers and criticized himself for failing to keep on reporting right down to the wire.
Kiplinger Business Resource Center
The Business Resource Center is the forecasting and management channel of Kiplinger.com. It contains long-form versions of forecasts from The Kiplinger Letter and other Kiplinger business periodicals, summaries of current economic forecasts, a political blog (Politics '08), and articles from other sources (such as think tanks, law firms and trade associations) that Kiplinger staff selects, vet, edits and presents as worthy contributions to policy debates, under the heading Kiplinger Recommends.
The Kiplinger Tax Letter
With 89,000 biweekly subscribers ($147 a year) The Tax Letter is the most widely read tax advisory newsletter, with readers at law and accounting firms, corporate CFO and general counsel offices, and the homes of high-net-worth individuals. In four pages each issue, covering both business and personal taxation, the Letter tries to advise its readers on coming changes in tax law and regulations, recent rulings and interpretations by the IRS, Tax Court and states, and strategies for minimizing taxes. It was launched in 1925.
The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter
The "Ag Letter" ($137 a year) serves farm producers, equipment and seed manufacturers, rural bankers and suppliers, food processors and others interested in American agriculture. The Letter covers trends in production, prices, world trade, marketing, technology, and energy. It was started in 1929.
Kiplinger Audio Conferences
These dial-in, real-time telephone seminars explore subjects of broad interest to people in management—the economic outlook, human resources (hiring and motivating workers, controlling health care costs, etc.), tapping global markets, emergency preparedness (avian flu), etc. They are typically conducted by leading experts in each field, and are available from Kiplinger on audio CDs after the conference. Prices vary by conference.
Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine
The monthly Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine advises its readers on managing their money, covering investing, retirement planning, taxes, insurance, real estate, buying and leasing a car, health care, travel and financing college. It has a paid average monthly circulation in 2010 of 700,000 copies per month (verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation), sold mostly by subscription ($23.95 a year) but also on newsstands ($3.99 per copy).
Founded in 1947 as Kiplinger Magazine (subtitled "The Changing Times"), it was the first magazine to offer money management advice to the American people. Kiplinger Magazine changed its name to Changing Times (subtitled: "The Kiplinger Magazine") in 1949, and it was known by that name until 1991, when it renamed itself Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine.9 For 33 years after its founding, it existed entirely on subscription and single-copy revenue, but in 1980 it began carrying advertising within its pages.
The second magazine of personal finance, Money from Time, Inc., was started in 1973. Sylvia Porter's Personal Finance, now defunct, was launched in the 1980s. (Kiplinger later bought its subscription file, as it did that of Individual Investor magazine, when that magazine folded in 2001.) The 1990s saw a proliferation of new personal finance periodicals, including SmartMoney (from Dow Jones and Hearst), and such now-defunct magazines as Your Money, Family Money, and Bloomberg's Personal Finance. Worth magazine started out as a personal finance publication but later repositioned itself as a lifestyle guide for the very rich. Following a shake-out after the recession of the '00s,10 the personal-finance magazine category is down to three--Money, Kiplinger's and SmartMoney.
Editorially, Kiplinger's magazine has championed over the decades a number of personal finance strategies and investment products that later became popular "conventional wisdom": the superiority of systematic investing (dollar cost averaging) over market timing; growth stocks that paid little or no dividends but invested in new technologies; mutual funds, especially no-load funds; stock index funds; term life insurance, rather than whole-life; and global investing.
Kiplinger's Web site, launched in 1996, is the home of both its personal finance and business forecasting content, including current coverage and archived material. It features an array of money management tools, calculators, forums and columns. Popular channels include The Basics, Starting Out (for young adults), Investing, and Retirement. Single-subject centers cover taxes, mutual funds, college finance, auto buying and ownership, small business, and travel, among other topics.
Kiplinger's Retirement Report
This 80,000 circulation monthly periodical ($60 a year), begun in 1993, covers all the key concerns of affluent older Americans—investing, estate planning, health, long-term care, leisure and travel, housing.
Special issues and products
Kiplinger publishes an array of single-topic newsstand issues and special products, including a mutual fund annual, Mutual Funds 2008; Success with Your Money, the Retirement Planning Guide, and the Family Records Organizer. It also produces DVD guides to such subjects as long-term care insurance, college financing and annuities. In partnership with The History Channel, Kiplinger produced a series of brief features, "Money Milestones," highlighting important innovations in financial services. For nearly two decades, Kiplinger tax advice was included in the best-selling income-tax-preparation software sold in America.
Kiplinger also offers personal finance and investing advice in a series of a dozen books, including Practical Guide to Your Money, Buying and Selling a Home, Guide to Investing Success, Money Smart Women, Raising Money Smart Kids, Financing College and Retire Worry-Free; all are published by Kaplan Publishing.
The Custom Publishing Division creates house-branded newsletters and pamphlets for a variety of enterprises, including banks, associations, and military organizations.
Kiplinger’s founder, W. M. Kiplinger, believed that the fruits of a company’s success should be shared with all its employees, so he established a system of profit sharing in the earliest years of the business.11 Among the unusual employees benefits at Kiplinger are a vacation resort in Florida 12 and double matching of employees’ contributions to schools and colleges. There are no special benefits for management that are not also available to all employees. In a time of widening disparity between executive compensation and general employee pay, Kiplinger executives are paid a relatively low multiple of the company's average employee compensation.
Kiplinger also believes that the pain of difficult times should be broadly shared by all of the company’s stakeholders, starting first with owners and senior management (by trimming or eliminating dividends and executive bonuses), before resorting to pay freezes or layoffs of rank-and-file employees. This shared sacrifice contributes to a collegial atmosphere and employee loyalty.13
Besides its journalistic innovations—pioneering the newsletter format and personal finance coverage—Kiplinger was an early adopter of a variety of new methods for selling subscriptions.
In the 1920s, Paul Babson, a Boston business publisher who invested in W. M. Kiplinger’s new company, encouraged Kiplinger to broadly mail its Kiplinger Letter subscription solicitations to national lists containing thousands of business managers and owners. Kiplinger perfected these direct-mail techniques throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s, eventually building its circulations through multi-million-piece mail campaigns in subsequent decades.14
Kiplinger is thought to be the first publisher to sell subscriptions through the new medium of television. When NBC launched "The Today Show" in 1952, the network had difficulty convincing advertisers that Americans would be willing to watch TV from 7 to 9 a.m. NBC was unable to land even one advertiser until Kiplinger bought commercials for its magazine (then titled Changing Times) and drew a very strong viewer response for its sample-issue offer, even before the era of toll-free phoning.15 NBC used Kiplinger’s success to prove that America was watching the new program, and other advertisers quickly signed on. In the 1950s and ‘60s, Kiplinger also bought 15-minute chunks of local radio time for commercials that combined its personal finance advice with a sales pitch--an early version of an "infomercial."
When Ted Turner launched his 24-hour-a-day Cable News Network in 1980, national advertisers were skeptical that many viewers would want to watch national and world news at all hours of the day and night. But Kiplinger took a chance on the new network, and it was one of CNN's heaviest advertisers that first year, using commercials of unusual length (two minutes or one minute) to sell thousands of subscriptions to The Kiplinger Letter.16 Later in the decade, Kiplinger was a charter advertiser on another TV program that blazed new ground—Charles Kuralt’s Sunday morning feature program on CBS, a pioneering and successful experiment in a broadcasting time slot then devoted entirely to religious programming.
During the 1980s, cable television and late-night broadcast TV became highly effective media for subscriptions sales of magazines and newsletters from many publishers (Time, Inc., Forbes, Dow Jones and others). But as commercial air time soared in the 1990s, low-priced products like periodicals were priced out of that market, and publication offers, including Kiplinger's, disappeared from the airwaves and cable.
Another new source of magazine subscription sales in the 1980s was the sweepstakes offer from “stamp sheet” sales agents like Publishers Clearing House and American Family Publishers. Kiplinger, like other publishers, sold hundreds of thousands of subscriptions to its magazines and newsletters through these agents. Eventually, however, the sweepstakes programs were criticized as deceptive by several state attorneys general, and they soon faded as a major subscription source for publishers.
By the 2000s, all publishers, including Kiplinger, were once again relying largely on their own direct-mail selling, while beginning to experiment with direct-response banner ads on Web sites, sponsored-link ads on Google search, etc. In addition, Kiplinger sells subscriptions and content packages to corporations and associations through enterprise-wide electronic site licenses.
Meanwhile, the proliferation of free content on Web sites (including those of print publishers) has made it difficult for publishers to maintain their pre-Internet circulation levels, even at deeply discounted prices. So many large-circulation magazines, including Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, reduced their circulations to trim subscription marketing expense, while simultaneously devoting more capital to building their "new media" products—Web sites, podcasts, DVDs, custom publishing, etc.
- The Newsletter on Newsletters (Rhinebeck, NY), May 7, 2007
- Foundation for Financial Service Professionals (financialpro.org)
- Ethisphere magazine, Q2 2007 issue (Ethisphere.com)
- Traffic data from Omniture; ad data from Dart/Doubleclick
- 2008 EPpy winner, Best Business Web Site, from Editor & Publisher and MediaWeek; 2008 EPpy finalist, Best National Magazine Web Site; MIN 's Best of the Web, 2007 finalist for Best Relaunch/Redesign; Webby Awards honoree, Best Financial Services Web Site (from International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences)
- The Newsletter on Newsletters, May 7, 2007
- Time magazine, Oct 20, 1961
- The Washington Post, "Washington Business," p. 1, June 14, 1993
- The Washington Post, June 14, 1993
- The New York Times, Business section, Nov. 26, 2001
- Family Business magazine, p. 36, May 1990
- The New York Times, "Personal Business," Feb. 1, 2004
- Ethisphere magazine, Q2 2007 issue (Ethisphere.com)
- "50 Years in Washington" (official Kiplinger Letter history, 1973)
- Martin Codel's Television Digest, Jan 19, 1952
- The Newsletter on Newsletters, May 7, 2007