subscriptions marketing


Well, I wasn’t expecting that.

And I bet the news that Dovetail is folding up its tents and melting away will have been a shock to its dozens of independent magazine clients for whom it provides subscriptions fulfilment services (to say nothing of the scores of employees – Dovetail is a considerable local employer).

The company was a joint venture of Dennis – who had previously held their subs at Customer Interface in Somerset – and Immediate, who inherited BBC Magazine’s involvement in Galleon. They merged to become Dovetail (geddit?) around ten years ago, partly to help fund the investment needed and partly to reduce the overcapacity that existed in the fulfilment market.

As well as the 1 million+ active subs records from Immediate and several hundred thousand from Dennis, Dovetail managed the files for a large number of independent (i.e. non-partner) publishers such as Private Eye, Imagine, the Tablet and Investors’ Chronicle. (more…)


Financial Modelling for Subscriptions

CoverI’ve just uploaded a small job for Dovetail Services, a beginner’s guide to putting together financial models for subscriptions. So if you’re at a loss when your marketing team go on about LTV, CPA and ROI, or when your finance manager wants to know what the impact of raising the subs price by 10% might be, this will be the place to start.

You can read it online here, or download the all-singing, all-dancing PDF version by clicking here and giving your email address to the nice people at Dovetail.

And if you’re still baffled by the numbers, you can always draft me in to put a budget together for you (I’ve done quite a few of those in the past year), or to run various projections based on your current numbers. Just drop me a line here.


Sainsbury’s “Entertainment on Demand” Digital Newsstand

An interesting launch last week, with Sainsbury’s offering its customers digital subscriptions to over 1,000 magazines by partnering with Magazine Cloner to run a feed of the PocketMags site. The new site is part of their “Entertainment on Demand” offering that provides movies, music and ebooks as well as magazines. You can see the similarities and the the differences between a title page below.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.49.46Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.50.00

As well as the usual payment methods, The Sainsbury’s site also allows customers to redeem Nectar points in purchasing subscriptions or single copies, and gives points for purchase. (more…)

“Onboarding” and Digital Bundles

Conversations with a couple of publishers this week about how offering print and digital bundles has fuelled revenue growth, deeper engagement and increased renewals. In both cases after and initial rapid growth, the number of ‘digital only’ subs has not increased much over the past few years, but the number of bundled subs continues to increase.

One of the important elements of the bundle is ensuring that the new subscribers activate their digital subs – they’re paying for it after all, and if they don’t engage with this aspect of their subscription then it is less likely that they will renew their bundle.

One of the publishers has quite a complex CRM process in place to make sure that subs use their new digital edition and then keep using it throughout the year. This involves emails, in app notifications, offline messaging and various other devices.

The other publisher has just done a telemarketing test to people who had subscribed offline, paid for a bundled sub, but then not activated the digital element of that subscription. Of the people they spoke to 70% (no that’s not a typo, 70%) activated their new digital subs there and then. That’s an unbelievable response.

I don’t know the reasons given for not activating the sub before, but one imagines it is a combination of forgetfulness, technical problems and ignorance of actually having a bundle.

Remember that this was to people who had subscribed offline, so the success of the campaign is almost certainly influenced by that, but it still shows that you should be looking at new ways to get your subscribers to engage with the digital product that they have paid for. If they do, then it’s likely your retention rates will go up, which will give a boost to both volumes and revenues.

Dovetail Subscription Conversion workshop

To the Dovetail Subscription Conversion workshop held at the conference centre of the British Library (an excuse for a plug for my review of the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty Legacy exhibition).

A short afternoon, but with several presentations on different aspects of ways in which we can maximise the return on subs efforts. For each I’ve got links to a blog post which has a copy of the presentation, as well as a link to a longer ‘Guide‘ which has a bit more background and context. Most of what was discussed was at a basic or intermediate level to match the differing knowledge levels of the audience, but it’s always helpful to be reminded of stuff we already know (or think that we do).

  • Ecommerce Top Tips (presentation here; more detail here): Ways to improve ecommerce performance through better understanding of the customer journey, improving the user experience and testing different approaches.
  • Using Customer Service better (presentation here; more detail here): Many of us don’t take full advantage of the knowledge and experience of our CS teams, but involving them early in the set up of new promotions can reduce the number of errors that occur later.
  • How reviews can boost SEO performance (presentation here; more detail here): Climbing up the search engine rankings is a tough old game, but adding reviews and ratings to your product pages can help. It also gives invaluable feedback on your products and services.

These are the first bits of a new project I’ve been asked to do by Dovetail to provide extra content for their site. I’ll post up more links as and when I do them.

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.