subscriptions marketing

Poster #fail

billboard poster

Guess the advertiser

I posted this picture on LinkedIn yesterday as it’s a classic case of a missing detail buggering up an entire campaign.

The advert is on an electronic billboard near the office. It’s a big display, on a prime site that’s passed by thousands of cars and pedestrians each day. It’s an ’impactful’ poster with a simple, clear message, strong colours and compelling visuals (magazine covers are always eye-catching).

The one problem is that there’s no way of knowing who the advertiser is. There’s no web address, no brand name, and when you google “your favourite magazines” you get Future’s shop site (’MyFavouriteMagazines’).

I’m reasonably sure the advertiser is Zinio because of the range of publishers on show, the number of titles they mention and because of the digital emphasis, but I’m not 100% certain. If I’m in the dark it’s unlikely that a consumer would be any wiser.

This can’t be a cheap place to advertise (and they’ve apparently also got the same ad on a site in or near Westfield) and whatever has been spent is utterly wasted.

Make that headline “#massivefail”

UPDATE: It’s not Zinio – apparently it was a joint initiative across five of the biggest magazine publishers to promote digital magazines in the run up to Christmas. On the plus side, it’s great to see publishers working together; I’ve redacted the negative side, because if I ever want to get another job in this industry, I suspect that my opinion of the execution of the campaign would be a mite prejudicial to any of those firms hiring me. (If you do it again guys, I’m happy to share thoughts.)


Magazine industry veteran in optimism shock.

Last Friday I came out of a meeting with a group of publishers feeling vaguely optimistic about the future of the industry – which is something that I can’t say has happened for quite some time.

I was moderating a user group meeting for one of the subscription bureaus and present were clients representing B2C and B2B publishers, big and small titles, UK and international.

The details of what was discussed aren’t important (and are anyway bound by the secrecy of the confessional), what was encouraging was the attitude. Although many of the people there talked about a ‘digital first’ strategy, what they were actually pursuing was a ‘customer first’ strategy – they want to deliver their product however the reader wanted to consume it, whether that was in print, digital, bundle, web, app, whatever.

“Agnostic marketing” was a termed that was used – it wasn’t a matter of promoting one particular delivery channel, but promoting the brand. And the brand in all its forms – magazine, products, events, add ons. Again the details aren’t important, it was the urge to innovate and to test that came across most strongly: “we don’t know what’s going to work, but we don’t yet know what’s not going to work, so we want to try as much as we can and see where the data lead us.” (more…)

Will digital save print?

Some interesting conversations with publishers last week about digital editions of magazines. The excitement of the launch of these products has settled into a realism about their use and about their limitations.

There are still a few publications where the digital version is being set up as the replacement for the print edition, but in many more cases the new medium is viewed as supplementary to the old.

As the Dovetail Digital Subscriber Survey shows, the number of “digital only” subscribers (i.e. ones that have no print product subscriptions) is vanishingly small (<1%). It will grow, but the much greater number are those mixing print and digital products.

This chimes with publishers’ experience. They had initial euphoria as large numbers of shell apps/sample editions were downloaded, but this growth wasn’t (indeed couldn’t be) sustained or turned into digital-only revenue streams. Digital only subs are still growing for most publishers, but these growth rates are much slower and, in some cases, have completely levelled out. The potential for substantially expanding a title’s market through digital editions is much more limited than publishers first thought. (more…)

The Future of Subscription Bureaus

Last year we ran a round table discussion where various publishers talked about the challenges of marketing digital products. At the end of this month we are running another event when MDs of five subscription bureaus will discuss the future of their business. This is a period of unprecedented change for subs bureaus. On the one hand, there are fewer titles and the increase in print subscriptions seems to have stalled; on the other, the growth of digital presents both a huge opportunity and a significant threat to the ‘traditional’ subscription house model.

How are bureaus reacting to these changes? What are the key strategic threats and opportunities to the bureaus’ businesses? What is each company doing to put itself in the best position to thrive in this dynamic market? How are they funding the huge amount of development that they need to make?

We’ll write up the discussion and post up a summary here and on LinkedIn, and InPublishing should also be carrying a piece about it in its September issue.

What questions would you want to put to the participants? Email me (or add something to the comments below) and I’ll raise your concerns with them.

Every little helps….

Doing the recent analysis of subscriptions from the ABC report I was a bit puzzled that some very big brands had lost subs over the last year.

It’s easy to see reasons for Reader’s Digest’s losses – this is a business in very major transition after all – but why should Good Housekeeping, Good Food, National Geographic and others all suffer quite big falls? These are titles that have invested heavily in subs over the past few years and are good at getting them, and good at renewing them.

But these are also all titles that have done well from the Tesco Clubcard scheme where you swap your Tesco points for magazine subscriptions. For many people this is almost the equivalent of getting free magazines as the transaction doesn’t involve any actual cash. And the titles were very cheap (e.g. a year of Heat for £30 of vouchers).

Tesco were doing hundreds of thousands of these subs at their peak, but perhaps the fall in the subs of the big brands is a straw in the wind. There are a couple of explanations:

  • These subs didn’t generate much revenue for publishers (no one has ever accused Tesco of being generous) and terms were renegotiated (in Tesco’s favour, naturally) a year or so back. It’s also known that renewal rates on these subs are really very, very low. So explanation one is that publishers are weening themselves off what was a very low margin, high volume circulation boost. If yield/cash/profit is more important than ABC, then publishers are taking a short term circulation hit for longer term profits.
  • The second explanation is that the Tesco scheme isn’t delivering the volume that it used to, which means that the circulation rug is being pulled from under publishers’ feet.

Any publishers out there who want to give a bit more background?

The iSUBSCRiBE subscriptions report

isubscribe magazine subscriptions reportI’ve spent the last few days cloistered with spreadsheets, digging down into the data of last week’s ABC report. What we’ve been trying to do is pull out information about magazine subs specifically, and that has resulted in our first iSUBSCRiBE Subscriptions Report, which you can download here for free.

The analysis shows that paid subs are an increasingly important part of magazines’ sales and now represent 24.2% of the total of actively purchased magazines. This is up from 23% for the comparable period in 2011 and from around 18% in 2007, and shows that the dependability of subscription sales is helping to offset pressures on the newsstand. Of the 503 titles in the ABC Report (which, of course, includes customer magazines and titles that use a free distribution model), there are 239 whose single copy subs represent more than 25% of their active purchased copies, and 88 titles where subs are more than half. In last year’s return those numbers were 219 and 73, again demonstrating that for many titles, paid subscriptions are becoming a much more significant part of the circulation mix. 15 companies now have over 100,000 subscribers on file, led by Immediate Media with 990,497, Hearst with 815,949 and IPC with 752,892.

136 magazines reported year on year subscription increases, star performers being Focus and Private Eye which each increased subs be over 10,000.

Details of the full contents, and a free download of the whole report, can be found here.




Use affiliate networks better – more orders, lower costs

At iSUBSCRiBE we spend a lot of money on PPC advertising. Over the years, as publishers have got more adept at using this source themselves, the keywords that we can bid on have been reduced.

Some publishers don’t let us bid on their brand terms at all. The smarter marketers allow us to bid, but set a maximum cpc. This means that they stay number one in the rankings and that their costs are not affected, but they benefit from the extra work  and resource we put in. This means that the overall number of subscriptions they generate goes up.

But in over five years, no publisher has ever asked about our affiliate policy. Given that all the big publishers have their own affiliate activity, this is a huge, and potentially hugely costly, omission.

Are we, and other third party sites, driving up the amounts you are paying to affiliates? Are  you losing orders that could be coming direct to you?


The subscription bureaus we deserve?

Get any group of publishers together in a room and you can guarantee that within five minutes they’ll be moaning about their subscription bureau. But as Chris Gadsby said at the iSUBSCRiBE round table last week, it’s probably our fault we have problems.

The subscription bureau’s role is a pretty thankless one. It’s a low margin business that can only make an operating profit by having large volumes go through without much variation. That’s why the bureaus all charge for every little thing out of the ordinary, including – the publishers’ big bugbear – bits of IT development.

Note I said ‘operating profit’. If a bureau needs major investment in its systems then the costs can be immense. And nearly all the major bureaus have done, are doing, or should be doing major system upgrades.

The other major problem they face is over-capacity in the market, which keeps down the rate that any bureau can charge, so their revenue stream is always lower than it needs to be.

And this is where some of the faults of the bureaus can be laid at the door of publishers, because subscription services tend to be bought like a commodity – at the lowest possible cost; we don’t want to pay any more than we can get away with. And we certainly don’t want to fund the long term investment that will be necessary to cope with digital access and bundled subscriptions.

It strikes me that the current situation is unsustainable and one of three things might happen. (more…)