How The Swimsuit Issue Became Sports Illustrated's Biggest Cash Cow

Sports Illustrated Covers

Photo: Sports Illustrated

The annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue came out today and while it is a convenient excuse for sports sites (like this one) to publish photos of girls in bikinis, this story doesn’t have anything to do with sports or sports journalism or even magazine publishing.(Unless it’s about the death of magazine publishing.)

Learn more about the business of the Swimsuit Issue →
The story today is how the Swimsuit Issue has turned into its own business and tech empire that, on its own, rivals the magazine that gave birth to it.

The women of the SI SI have taken over TV and the web today, with talk show appearances by models, back-to-back nights on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” a Twitter hashtag, and a multimedia blitz to rival any Apple product launch.

The special magazine also has Android and iPad apps that have become part of a lucrative distribution model (and really the best way to view all the photos).

In fact, with the announcement on Friday that Sports Illustrated Regular will begin selling digital subscriptions in tandem with the paper magazine, it seems clear that the success of electronic swimwear led the way.

The first Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition debuted on Jan. 20, 1964, as a five-page supplement. It was designed by then-editor, Andre Laguerre to increase readership during the winter lull between popular sports seasons. The premier cover featured Babette March in a white two-piece.

Fashion reporter Jule Campbell was chosen as SI's first swimsuit editor. During her 31-year reign from 1965 to 1996, Campbell transformed the publication from a provocative glossy featuring a few bikini-clad women into a commercial behemoth.

In 1997, SI's swimsuit edition received special-issue status. It has since become the single best-selling issue in Time Inc.'s magazine franchise.

(Via and CNBC)

In 2005, the swimsuit issue brought in an estimated $35 million in ad sales; Today It generates 7 per cent of Sports Illustrated's annual revenue, according to SI editor Terry McDonnell.

(Via CNN Money and USA Today)

The swimsuit issue isn't just a boon to advertisers — bikini and jewelry designers whose items are featured in the special issue also experience a major boost in sales.

Regular Sports Illustrated has more than three million subscribers and is read by about 23 million people a week.

The swimsuit issue traditionally sells more than 1 million copies on newstands. This year, the magazine sells for $6.99 per copy.

(Via New York Post.)

In 1983, SI rolled out its first swimsuit calender. This was followed by a television documentary of Sports Illustrated's 25th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue. Over the next two decades, a compilation of videos, TV specials, trading cards, cell phone screen savers, and other secondary products have contributed to an additional $10 million in revenue.

In February 2011, Sport Illustrated also began selling its first-ever digital subscription apps, available on Google Android, which coincided with the release of its swimsuit issue.

Now check out a lady who sells millions in magazines all on her own...

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.