The first iSubscribe publishers’ round table

Many thanks to the publishers who came to yesterday’s Round Table on how subs marketing is dealing with digital products. It was an interesting, entertaining and informative discussion, with all of the participants willing to share their experiences and the issues they are having to face.

A fuller write up will appear in the next issue of InPublishing, which is fortunate as I can only remember about a quarter of what was talked about.

A few things did lodge in the mind though. The first was a recognition by everyone, B2B or consumer, big or small, that although printed magazines are still the most important part of what we do, it is absolutely essential to be thinking in terms of ‘products’ or ‘brands’. Most companies had made moves to reorganise subs teams to look after products in whatever form they are available and are juggling resource between print and digital. Some are driving strongly to digital-only (either across the portfolio or on specific titles) so by having teams that look after a brand rather than a delivery method, the agreed strategy can be implemented.

Second was that it was still too early to say what the lifetime value of digital products is. There’s a paucity of data from Apple, Zinio and others and modelling future revenue will be virtually impossible until a recognisable pattern of renewals emerges. This of course throws up a couple of huge problems: how do we justify extra investment if we can’t be confident of the return; and how do we identify just who our customers are (if third parties hold this information subs teams are as unaware of subscribers as the newstrade team is of shop buyers). There is a recognition that publishing firms need to establish the direct relationship with digital consumers that exist for print subscriptions, and much work is being done by and with the bureaus to enable this. If successful this will be the most significant development of the next few years, as subs teams will be able to get the data that they rely on to know what works for acquisition and retention. If it doesn’t happen we’ll just have to hand the keys to Apple.

Another common theme was the recognition that everyone in the subs team needs to be regularly brought up to speed on digital developments. In some companies this is done by having regular ‘clinics’ to discuss issues, in others ‘task forces’ have been set up to be parachuted in to work on specific projects, and one company is making sure that each of their marketing managers has a particular specialism (e.g. PPC) and can act as an expert resource on that topic for the rest of the team.

And the move to the marketing of digital products seems to be expanding the pool of potential recruits into the business. The key thing for the marketing directors present was that their staff need to be good marketers – good digital marketers – not that they have experience of publishing or print. If this is actually a trend that continues it can only be good for the industry as it brings in fresh thinking and new approaches.

And the final point is that everyone was optimistic about the future of printed products. There will be a change of emphasis as more revenue will come from digital; there will be some products that leave print behind to become digital-only; there will be a move to getting revenue for content and information; some magazines will reposition as ‘luxury brands’ – but magazines as we know them will still be around in ten years time.

Thanks again to all those who took part: in alphabetical order, Richard Ayerst from Dennis; Jon Bentley, Incisive Media; Amanda Chester of IPC: Chris Gadsby, Bauer; Georgina Rushworth from RBI; Sharon Todd, Haymarket; and Lucy Vincent from Press Holdings.

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