magazine publishing

“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.

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PDF editions – why they’re rubbish, and why you need them

If you’re at all concerned with digital editions of magazines you should follow @david_hicks on Twitter. You do have to endure a succession of tweets about Man United (a once-successful association football club m’lud), but between these he says some very sensible things about digital magazines.

“Sensible” in this context means of course “stuff I agree with”, and his criticisms of PDF ‘page-turners’ are generally right on the money.

These ‘digital facsimiles’ were devised as a solution to publishers’ problems, not to meet any need of consumers. They allow a magazine to pretend they’ve ‘gone digital’, when in reality they’ve done nothing of the sort. They tie a publisher and a consumer to a publishing and content schedule that dates from the days of movable type. And I don’t care what your reader survey says, people don’t like reading facsimile editions – if they did you’d be selling more of them.

A ‘proper’ digital edition will have been built from the ground up so that it works in the way a user of a digital device consumes content. It wouldn’t be issue-based; it should be updated constantly and able to draw on all the content of the title. Your magazine might support several editions or apps for different types of content, or you might have one app that pulls in material from multiple titles. The key is to identify the need and build around that, not create a clumsy facsimile and hope to drag current readers across to it.

Having set my standard firmly in the ground, I’m now going to tell you why every title should have a PDF version.
For consumers who don’t want print, produce a proper digital experience rather than a rubbish compromise. But because page-turners are simply an extension of the print product, give them away free with a print subscription and leverage the marketing benefits that this allows. (more…)

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…)

First issue delivery – why publishers get it wrong

Prompted by Jim Bilton’s latest ‘subscriber service survey’ in the Wessenden Briefing I’ve been thinking a bit about customer service and just how badly subscribers are treated by publishers.

In my old copywriting days it used to be quite amusing to write “Yes please rush me my magazine! (please allow up to six weeks)”, but if I were a consumer, the joke would be stating to pall by now.

The Wessenden survey shows that customers’ expectations of customer service are rising and that a lot of this is being driven by the standard of service given by online operators.

Amazon would not be where it is today if its delivery times were the same as magazine publishers. And the fact is that the speed of first issue delivery has one of the biggest impacts on renewal intentions. Your delay in getting out the subscriber’s first copy is having a negative effect on your renewal rates.

But, says the industry, subscriptions have lead times and magazines have print deadlines; we’re not sending out one product, but starting a service; it’s “impractical” to make special cases.

Obviously true to an extent, but I’d contend that these are excuses rather than genuine reasons for the delay. What’s really happening is that publishers are trying to save money – they don’t want to overprint a few copies to cope with new subs coming in; they don’t want to mail out copies to new subs if they can’t get them in the bulk mail rates; they don’t want the hassle of supplying digital editions in the interim.

This penny saving at the start of the sub is costing pounds in renewals. Just think, you’ve just got a new subscriber, someone who loves your magazine so much that they are prepared to pay up front for the product,  and what do you do? You piss them off by making them wait 4-6 weeks to get their first magazine.

Stop thinking like a publisher, and start thinking like a customer: what would your opinion be of a company that made you wait six weeks to get the product you ordered? It’s not positive is it?