In January of this year SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S circulation hit one and a quarter million—a long way from the 450,000 we had when we started publishing in 1954. Although no further increase had been planned, an accelerating rate of growth will peg the figure at 1,350,000 in September and, by conservative estimate, at 1,450,000 in 1968.
It was not always so easy, and the man who knows this well is Bob Cowin, our circulation director, who has been selling SI to the readers ever since it was only an idea. "Most people in the business," Cowin recalls, "predicted that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED would be a flop. There was a feeling that interest in sport was only expressed in areas of individual preference, and that anything else—a larger umbrella—-just wouldn't work out." In other words, football belonged in football fan magazines, Ping-Pong in Ping-Pong periodicals, and never the twain should mate.
"Our growth now surprises even me, though I'm the person who works out how we're going to get our next 100,000," Cowin says. "What I have discovered, however, is that the last 100,000 is easier than the one before. Each leap comes easier."
Between the leaps have come some little skips and jumps. When Rick Mount appeared on the cover (SI, Feb. 14, 1966), 7,300 newsstand copies were sold in Lebanon, Ind. alone. (The population of Lebanon is 9,523.) But the steady increase is attributed by Cowin and his staff to growing appreciation of the magazine's literary and visual quality and to such improvements as faster distribution and more current color pages.
During our 13 years of steady progress, some 60 million letters to present and prospective subscribers have been sent over Cowin's signature. Some of the recipients may still be wondering who in the name of Willie Mays Robert E. Cowin is.
Cowin is a 44-year-old Connecticut family man dedicated to God, country, direct mail—and golf. "I started to play when I was 9, back in Franklin, Pa.," he says. "I wanted to play baseball, but my parents insisted on dragging me along to the club they belonged to." Now glad they did, Cowin has won the Magazine Publishers Association tournament the last two years and is a frequent Time Inc. champion. Cowin says he had a five handicap when he was 15 and has been trying, possibly not too hard, to get it back ever since: "My handicap is eight now, but I win more."
The way the circulation is expanding now, increases will come so easily that Bob Cowin should have plenty of time to concentrate on cutting off those three strokes.