In Praise of WordPress

imgresI built yet another website last week (I’m a one man content farm).

For a couple of years I’ve had a blog about London history on Google’s ‘Blogger’ platform, but because Blogger is a bit basic (and, to be honest, a bit crap), I bought a domain, transferred all the content from the old site to the new one, put in 301 redirects so I don’t lose any search visibility, upgraded the meta text for better SEO, installed analytics tracking code, dropped in a line of code to verify the site with an affiliate network, added social sharing buttons, and linked my twitter account to automatically promote posts. Oh, and I tried out three or four different site designs until I found one I liked.

The fact that I could do all of this with coding knowledge that stopped with MS-DOS (ask your parents) is all down to WordPress. At its most basic you can have a website up and running in a couple of minutes using the tools at Decide on a name, decide on how you want the site to look, a couple of clicks and you can start a blog.



Mobile optimisation – a couple of useful links

A project for a client on the potential a mobile optimised site might give their ecommerce efforts. For desktop traffic their site is achieving vertigo-inducing conversion rates, but it isn’t either responsive or adaptive (difference here) so phones and tablets convert relatively poorly.

Making the business case for mobile is something most of us have to grapple with – we know it’s a no-brainer, but finding hard figures that support the investment is more problematic. So that meant a lot of googling and a lot of online reading (isn’t the interweb just marvellous) and some sources you might find useful.

Econsultancy (as always) has tons of good stuff, including this piece that compares (anonymous) retailer data across three sectors and shows that not only do conversion rates go up on optimised sites, but the average order value increases too; customers seem to browse more and therefore buy more. These findings are backed up by this blog post from a company called Storm who, slightly disappointingly, only sell packaging supplies. (I mean, come on, calling yourselves Storm implies sound and fury, not cardboard boxes.)

Then in this useful post from Smart Insights about conversion rates, I found this excellent link to the Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly (you can download it here). These guys have benchmarked conversion rates, segmented by devices for large US ecommerce brands. There is a great deal of relevant stuff in there, including figures on the growth of mobile/tablet traffic (“One out of every three visits to leading ecommerce websites now comes from either a tablet or smartphone—up from one out of five just last year“) as well as lots of rather useful data and charts. By going back through the past Monetate reports one can see how the conversion rates have changed over the past three to four years. Basically, traffic through mobile converts at around 30% of desktop, and tablet traffic at around 80%. Both these figures have drifted down slightly from three years ago.

So, have a look in analytics and see how your traffic is converting. If it’s more than these benchmarks pat yourself on the back; if it’s less, then that’s your opportunity.

Is there a MyWaitrose effect?

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 20.58.45Good news! trumpets an email from Waitrose. From tomorrow the minimum spend needed to get a free broadsheet paper falls back to £5.00 between Monday and Friday; at the end of April they’d increased this to £10 (this price point stays for Saturday and Sunday papers).

If you don’t know Waitrose’s promotion it’s quite a simple deal. If you’re a MyWaitrose card holder then as long as you have £5.00 of groceries in your basket (believe me, not at all hard at Waitrose) you can add one of the papers in the offer for nothing (they ring it through the till and then deduct the amount off the total bill).

I’m fascinated by this promotion and whether it might be connected to a recent slowdown in the sales fall for some newspapers. In April the Guardian was down just 0.3% on its sales in April 2013, The Telegraph down 2.5%, The Times 2.2% and the Mail 5.5% (the Independent was down a whopping 14.4%). Compared to the huge falls of the past few years these almost seem like good news for the print press. (more…)

Where I Give Myself a New Job

Pantone_SkinTone_Guide_gallery copyLast month I announced the launch of to a jubilant world (I believe that the event is still being celebrated in some of the remoter parts of Tajikistan. And Middlesbrough.).

At the risk of spoiling you still further, I’m pleased to tell you about venture number two, TheBrownConsultancy – of which I’ve declared myself the managing director (I might promote myself to CEO if I do a good enough job over the next six months).

Whereas is aimed at publishing companies and those where subscriptions is the major part of their business model, The Brown Consultancy is pitched towards businesses that want some support on either their digital marketing strategy, their ecommerce activity or managing specific campaigns. I want to be able to share the experience I’ve gained from two quite active ecommerce businesses to help companies that are looking to improve their ROI and lower their CPA, whether they’re using search, affiliate networks, email marketing or other digital channels to gain orders.

I’ve played around with my old blog site a bit to build this web site using WordPress, so you can find out a bit more about me and the services on offer using the menu above.

The absolutely cast-iron secret for guaranteed digital marketing success

An interview last week, that I hadn’t realised was going to be an interview (“pop over for a chat” they said), so I went a bit underprepared and was too hesitant in my answers.

It was for a newspaper who wanted someone to come in for a short contract and shake up their digital marketing. It should have been right up my street, but I didn’t get the gig and, talking to the friend who was in on the meeting, the main reason was that I didn’t offer the circulation director a “magic bullet” that would immediately transform their activity and rocket power their sales. (more…)

Online subscription agencies

Image taken from

Image taken from

Over the past few years third party agents have produced growing numbers of print subscriptions from online “subscription stores” with a corresponding growth in their share of publishers’ acquisition budgets. There are north of 350,000 orders a year generated via the sites listed below, which is estimated to be  more than 10% of all new subscriptions. It’s clear that publishers need to manage their agents to get the most from the opportunities – and to ensure that ROI is sustainable and that the orders being produced are both genuinely new subscribers and ones which renew profitably. All the stores operate on a CPA model, but with publishers paying either a flat rate per order or a percentage of the sales value, there is a substantial amount of money going from publishers to the agents.

Most of the stores are fishing in the same pool to a certain extent, with orders being generated through PPC, SEO, affiliate networks and emails to the agents’ own and third party data. This can mean that the agent is also competing with the publisher’s own efforts, so we have seen (in particular) restrictions on the PPC terms that publishers permit the agents to use, or on the amount of the bid, and making sure that the agent doesn’t use Google’s product listing ads to feature titles.

This has meant that agents have had to be more creative in finding new sources of orders that publishers cannot, so for example iSubscribe and ThreePM have developed a number of partner relationships, and Unique and iSubscribe supply libraries and schools. Newsstand and Unique also supply single copy sales and fulfil some subscriptions themselves rather than having a direct relationship with the publisher (as these subs are fulfilled from the retail supply, they don’t feature in publishers’ subscription figures).

I’ve listed the agents and their stores below, in order of the number of direct-to-publisher subscriptions (as opposed to those fulfilled by the agents themselves) that come through the stores or white-label versions of the stores. It doesn’t include orders from single-title sites such as those offered by Jellyfish and iSubscribe (e.g. National Geographic or BBC History).


Shard Experience

riig33xvdvgvgui3v5myTo The Shard! (I think it should always have an exclamation mark) on a crisp March morning for a presentation and a breakfast by Readly.

Readly are the new “all you can eat” subscription service for magazines. You pay a tenner a month and get to access to all the magazines – current issues and back issues – on their service. That’s currently 400 different magazines from across Sweden (where Readly launched), the US (now live) and the UK (which is launching in the next few days). There seem to be around 120 UK titles on the site at present, with IPC and Haymarket being the two larger publishers present. More publishers and titles will presumably be added over the next few weeks.

The editions are ‘just’ flat PDF versions rather than anything more sophisticated. I’ve always had reservations about this way of going digital (and I go back over ten years here, when the Telegraph were looking at producing page-turner editions using Olive software), but Per Hellberg, Readly’s CEO, made a strong case for this type of product as the best option for a “magazine buffet” service.

Primary among the reasons is to give the customers a standard experience – any title they read or browse on the service will have the same navigation and the same features; there’s no need to have to come to terms with different publishers’ preferred UX. Second is consumer conservatism – despite what us publishers might want, many readers like (or don’t actively dislike) the consistency of experience between print and digital.

A third reason is ease for publishers. A standard format from the press-ready print files means no extra work to get titles live and allows for back issues to be uploaded without any format conversion. The whole subject of back issues is important, and I’ll come back to this in a second.

Per’s overarching philosophy is this – there’s nothing wrong with the content that’s being produced, so why would Readly want to change that (“Netflix don’t re-edit movies they show”) – the challenge for the market is in distribution, accessibility and marketing. And on customer acquisition over the next three years Readly are planning to spend £100 million across the UK, US, Germany and other territories. (Bloody hell, that’s a marketing budget.) (more…)

Where I try to build a website

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.48.02The first of two new things of mine is about to go in front of an unprepared world as I go live with

This is basically a venture to chase up more freelance work in subscription marketing. (If anyone asks I’m claiming that the domain name is ironic.) Whether you want analysis of your strategy or help on specific campaigns, drop me a line and we can talk through what you’re trying to achieve. More details are on the website (oh, you wanted to be reminded of the address? No problem, it’s

I built the pages using a template-driven site builder on 123-Reg. On the plus side it was fairly quick to do – what you see took around 4-5 hours in total – but I wouldn’t recommend it for anything substantial. There are lots of counter-intuitive functions, not many decent templates, and a lack of documentation and help (at one point the site was ready, but moving an image threw everything out – I mean everything. There was no way of reversing the move.) Venture number 2, which will be sprung in the next couple of weeks, is likely to have its site built in WordPress (like this blog, but on its own domain), which I suspect will take considerably longer, but produce better results.

But at least the courses in Analytics that I’ve been doing have been worthwhile. Tracking code is embedded and working, filters are set up – now all I need is some traffic…

The iSUBSCRiBE subscriptions report

REPORT-GRAPHIC-social-mediaOnce again I’ve gone toe-to-toe with the ABC returns and pulled out data galore on subscriptions. Tables! Graphs! Charts! with a bit of analysis, comment and speculation thrown in for good measure. It runs to around 20 pages and you can download your free copy here.

To whet your appetite, some key facts are:

  • Saga is still the number 1 subscription title in the UK, but Radio Times has now moved into the number 2 spot
  • There are 7,146,375 print subscriptions reported
  • Print subs are now nearly 25% of actively purchased magazine sales
  • 15 companies have over 100,000 subs on file
  • Glamour added over 21,000 print subscriptions last year

An interesting/complicating factor this time around is ABC’s inclusion of digital editions. This isn’t all digital editions, just those that are basic facsimile versions of the print product (so it excludes a lot of apps and other editions), but even so there are a further 413,740 subs to add to the print total.

Uniquely (genuinely, you won’t find it anywhere else) the report shows the top 100 subscription titles using the combined print and digital edition figures, and the combined figures for the major publishing companies.

Follow this link to download your free copy, and please email me or post questions below if you would like more specific information.