5 Ways Magazine Publishers Can Maximize Postal Savings

By: D. Eadward Tree

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A big party I recently attended illustrates a principle behind what I’ve consistently found to be the greatest source of waste, the greatest source of potential cost savings, and the biggest differentiator between competing printing proposals for all but the smallest-circulation magazines.

And because of likely regulatory changes, new opportunities for postal savings (or waste) are likely to arise, even for publishers that already have their houses in order.

As we entered the celebration, my companions and I were directed to a row of tables to pick up our preprinted, must-be-worn nametags. We acted on instinct: Ms. Bush veered to the left toward the beginning of the alphabet, Ms. Leaf headed straight toward the middle, and I bore right toward the end of the alphabet.

It’s then we discovered why so many people were milling about and calling out to each other: The 300 nametags were placed on the tables in random order.

The simple solution, of course, would have been to presort the digital list of attendees in alphabetical order before printing the nametags. In the same way, it’s much easier for a publisher to presort its mailing list so that addressed copies can be grouped by metropolitan area, ZIP code, and letter-carrier route than it is for the U.S. Postal Service to sort through randomly addressed magazines.

When the postal presort process works well, most copies end up in bundles that contain at least six copies for the same carrier route. If the printer has enough volume and a strong transportation network, most such carrier-route bundles are placed on pallets and dropshipped to a USPS facility close to the final delivery addresses. Freight and handling are minimal for the Postal Service, except for the letter carrier who opens a bundle, sequences the copies with her other mail, and delivers them.

USPS rates and discounts reward such efficiency, charging only about 25 cents to deliver each half-pound (about 140-page) magazine under this scenario.

But for a nationwide mailing list of only a few thousand addresses, most copies end up in sacks (the Postal Service hates sacks), are handed off to the USPS far from their final destination, and go through multiple handlings before being delivered. The postage for that same140-page magazine under this scenario could cost 65 cents.

Contrary to what some critics have charged, the deck is not stacked against small-circulation publications. Printers often use co-mail or other mail-consolidation techniques to combine multiple publications into one large, efficient mailing. And larger publications often have multiple versions that can split their mailing into numerous small, inefficient lists.

The Postal Regulatory Commission’s recent proposal to bail out the Postal Service with additional rate increases is likely to be challenged in court. (See USPS Bail Out Could Hike Postal Rates 41% in Next Five Years.) But one part of the proposal makes perfect sense -- forcing the Postal Service to provide rate discounts more in line with its resulting cost savings.

The incentive to move copies into carrier-route bundles would increase by at least 25%, perhaps moving add-a-name from an exotic tactic to the mainstream. Enhanced discounts would up the ante for printers, perhaps leading to better dropshipping or more multi-title firm bundles.

Here’s a guide to getting the maximum savings out of your postal presort and to being prepared for the coming regulatory changes:

  1. Be choosy about printers: Unless postage is less than 25% of your production costs or your audience is geographically concentrated in one area, use a printer that produces enough magazines to offer mail consolidation and an extensive dropshipping network. A less specialized printer can’t save you enough on printing to make up for the lost postage discounts.
  2. Make postage part of any printing negotiation: Give the competing printers a copy of your mailing list (under a non-disclosure agreement) and see what kind of postal savings they project or will even guarantee. Not all presort tactics or co-mail programs are the same, and in some cases such alternatives as selective binding may work better.
  3. Combine all your address sources: Some publishers have multiple address lists – e.g. subscribers, advertisers, VIPs, and hair salons. Unless one of these groups gets a distinct edition, present them to the printer as a single list, even if they’re going to be co-mailed. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying the printer for some false savings – savings that you could have achieved on your own just by consolidating your mailing list.
  4. Optimize your versions: I once worked with a title that had more than 40 different versions because of regional and demographic sections. Some versions -- such as the one for women in Southern California who got a “last-copy” cover wrap -- were sent to a fraction of 1% of the entire mailing. A few simple rules -- such as creating only one edition for each cover wrap -- cut the number of versions by more than half, generated huge postal savings.
  5. Press for creative solutions: The 10-cent postage reduction for each copy moved into a carrier-route bundle, plus the benefits of dropshipping, are so great that printers often stop there. But if you often mail multiple copies to the same address (as happens for many trade publications), firm bundling can yield significant savings even if it means pulling some copies out of co-mail. With add-a-name, carrier routes with exactly five copies get an additional copy, resulting in a lower postage bill despite mailing more copies. With a bit more work, large co-mail pools may be able to achieve more savings from high-density carrier routes and from dropshipping to USPS delivery units.

Why Hoffman Media Is Doubling Down on Print

By: Greg Dool


Print is anything but dead at Hoffman Media.

The Birmingham, Alabama-based publisher of 11 Southern-focused special interest magazines—several of which boast nationwide print audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands—has distinguished itself as something of an anomaly in the current landscape by continuing to stake its bets on reader-driven print revenue.

The company says it hit a record high in newsstand sales last year (as of the most recent MagNet report, from Q1 of 2017, Hoffman was the only top-15 publisher to see a year-over-year increase in either retail units sold or newsstand revenue). It says its magazine business grown steadily since its founding in 1983, and it’s difficult to argue the point; in the last three years alone, Hoffman has bolstered its portfolio by launching four additional regular frequency titles, with a fifth planned for 2018.

Moreover, the company is kicking off the year by investing further in two of its flagship titles: Southern Lady, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and Taste of the South—increasing both magazines’ trim sizes to 9 inches-wide and adding 16 pages to Taste of the South (Southern Lady saw its page count increased a year ago).

For Brian Hart Hoffman, president and chief creative officer and son of company founder Phyllis Hoffman DePiano, it’s about offering a quality product to readers, first and foremost.

“We really value the relationship we have with our readers, and they demand and command the quality that we put into each of our publications, whether it be through our photography, the quality of our recipes, the extent of our travel coverage,” Hoffman tells Folio:. “They told us they wanted more. It’s a wonderful problem to have readers that love what you’re doing so much that they want to see more of it.”

Folio: sat down with Hoffman to learn more about what’s allowed the company to remain bullish on print, and where the medium is headed in the future.

Folio: A big part of Taste of the South‘s refresh is increasing the magazine’s travel coverage. Why?

Brian Hart Hoffman: We’ve entered into a period of time where the hunger for culinary travel is really strong, so we knew that by adding pages we could double down on our commitment to that. Social media is such a lens into our readers’ daily lives and what they love and want more of. We constantly get messages from readers saying, “I’m traveling to Atlanta; give me the top five places to eat.”

Taste of the South is read nationally. The readers are Southern by interest, Southern by heart. They want to travel and explore the South, and food is something that they think about in that planning.

Folio: What are some ways you take a regionally-focused title and appeal to readers in new markets?

Hoffman: Newsstand placements, absolutely; making we’re sitting front-and-center in key markets where we’ve seen a lot of success. But social media is a big vehicle through which people learn about us. We work with a lot of influencers now who are in the Southern food and lifestyle space. They love being in print and we love seeing our products in blogs and on social media.

Folio: How has social media impacted the decisions you make when it comes to designing a print magazine?

Hoffman: Readers love to take photos of what they’re reading. We see a lot of social media engagement when subscribers receive their copies of the magazine in the mail. They love to style their own images with coffee or muffins or something they’ve made from the magazine. They have it sitting on the counter and they want people to know that they’re spending their Saturday reading Taste of the South and baking something in their kitchen, or that Southern Lady is accompanying them on a road trip or an airplane.

People love to engage with the brand digitally, but show that they’re also reading a print product.

Folio: Do you think your magazines lend themselves particularly well to that idea, because they do tend to skew toward those thicker, coffee-table type of books? 

Hoffman: I think so. Our quality is absolutely something we want people to engage with, and they do. It’s not uncommon for us to hear from our audience that the paper is so nice, the photos are so pretty. We get photos from readers of the stack of magazines on their bookshelf because they can’t come to part with them.

We’re moving in the direction of higher quality, nicer paper, wider format. We’re not looking to cut back to the point where readers would start to feel like it’s a disposable product.

Folio: Does appealing to new readers on the newsstand ever come at odds with maintaining that level of quality for your regular subscribers?

Hoffman: We absolutely value the balance. Some of our magazines have much higher cover prices than a typical publisher might set; we have some titles at $12.99. Southern Lady is $7.99. Taste of the South is $5.99. When someone sees that price on the newsstand, the quality has to match that ask. They have to see it when they turn the pages; they know right then that they aren’t buying something that doesn’t provide value back to them.

It’s the same with our subscribers. We don’t offer $5 subscriptions and undervalue the quality of what people receive in the mail. They pay a price that’s indicative of the product they’re going to receive.

Folio: What about when it comes to advertising? What considerations do you make when trying to maintain that quality for the reader?

Hoffman: We limit some of our publications to a 70-30 edit-to-ad ratio. So you’ll definitely see more editorial in all of our publications. The higher the price goes, the more limited those advertising opportunities are. We are looking for quality advertising partners. We’re not chasing rate bases and doing things to keep the audience size at a certain level.

When someone chooses to advertise with Hoffman Media, they are getting a file of qualified and paid customers, so they are getting an active and engaged audience. That’s what we deliver to them—that relationship. And their ad is going to be visible. It’s not going to be buried.

Folio: Has it become a tougher sell as advertising budgets have moved towards digital media?

Hoffman: We’re absolutely still seeing demand. Our advertising revenue has grown each year for the last three or four years. It’s all in the relationship and the package we bring to that partner.

Sure, it now involves digital elements and engagement with our audience through social media or our newsletters. But they absolutely still see the value of being in the print product.

Folio: That’s contrary somewhat to what we’re seeing more broadly in the marketplace, where a lot of publishers have had to move away from print toward other revenue sources. What has Hoffman done differently?

Hoffman: I don’t have the crystal ball to speak to other publishers’ strategies, but I can speak to ours, and it’s delivering more of what people tell us they want. I know that sounds simple, but we enjoy a really great relationship with our core audiences, and they’re very vocal.

As an example, I am an avid baker. I had been producing content for a number of years that had baking elements for Taste of the South and other publications; we would do special editions geared toward baking that were very successful. The light bulb went off when we asked, “Why is there not a baking publication?”

We introduced the Bake from Scratch brand because we knew there was an audience there. After successfully testing it, we launched what became one of the hottest launches of the year.

Folio: What are some of the ways you identify or test which markets might be right for a new product?

Hoffman: If you look at some of our brands like Southern Lady or The Cottage Journal or Southern Home, we often test “sister content,” that feels a part of the brand, but may be kicking the wall out into a new sector. We conduct newsstand tests for subject matter, for branding, for various things. When we see really strong success, we have internal conversations about how to do more of that and whether it’s worthy of expanding to its own brand platform.

Folio: More broadly, what kind of trends are you paying attention to? Where do you see print magazines heading?

Hoffman: I would say it’s trending toward quality. The audience that we see engaging on the newsstand and in subscriber publications is for higher quality products, and they don’t mind the price. Obviously, everything has a price threshold.

I’m often asked about Classic Sewing and its $25 cover price. But when you look at that niche and that product and see the value that’s contained within that polybag, it’s not just a publication. They can immediately look at that package and see that the $25 price is providing way more value to them than that monetary amount.

You will see more and more of that from us. I have said before, you will never see Hoffman Media launch another publication at $4.99 or less. I guess I should never say never, but we are definitely seeing the numbers and the trends indicate that the higher quality and higher price is working.

What Happened to Creative Subscription Marketing for Magazines?

By: John Morthanos


As an outspoken advocate of newsstand sales and someone with experience in circulation marketing, I find there is a correlation between the loss of newsstand sales and the reduction in creative direct response subscription marketing.

Sure, today there is a heavy reliance on internet sales … whether it is going through online subscription agents including Amazon.com, Magazine-Order.com, or the publisher’s home page. But the effort to reach out and “touch” real people is lost completely on these digital channels, and in doing so, selling the concept of a magazine and its contents is also lost.

Magazines Aren't Selling Themselves Well Online

Go to a website of interest … let’s say you’re looking for a leek soup recipe as I did this morning. I found over 6 million potential sites that have this recipe. Go to any of the sites and if it is not a specific magazine site like Martha Stewart for example, there is no obvious promotion to a specific magazine or a site to subscribe to. One site had ads for a furniture company, a national chicken brand. The Martha Stewart page did have one ad for three magazines for “just $10” … but no promotion for specific titles or how they will help make you smarter, thinner, happier, more satiated, or whatever.

At the bottom of the site there is a listing of approximately 10 titles sold by Meredith and AllRecipes.com (part of the Meredith Women’s Network), but no pizzazz, bang, direction to the wonders of the magazine or its contents. Just a listing of 10 titles. The site provided no reasons to go to a store to thumb through an issue and see if it is for you. Nothing to impel you to buy the magazine, or in the words of the classic 1973 National Lampoon subscription ad, “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

The National Lampoon ad created a great deal of buzz. It got rave reviews and a great deal of hate mail. It was publicized in daily newspapers and national magazines, and in the end, it drove consumers to newsstands to see what this magazine was all about. It also sold subscriptions -- a big win for the creative circulation team.

Looking Back at the Creative Subscription Offers of the Past

When I was hired in 1983 to be on the circulation creative services team for the newly formed Ziff-Davis Computer Division, Karen Weinstein, the art director, and myself were given the task to create ads that would spur interest in the new line of personal computers that sat on a desk top. The purpose was to generate excitement for a new industry, new magazines, and develop the groundwork for the future of personal computing. This was the vision of Larry Sporn, the president of the Computer Division and Carole Mandel, the VP of circulation.

Karen and I created the ads. As we called it she was the music, I was the words. These campaigns opened consumers’ eyes to personal computing and created a buzz that made Ziff-Davis the leading computer publisher in the U.S.

In 1984 IBM was planning to release PC Jr. computer for the home. Larry and Carole tasked Karen and myself to come up with a direct mail and print campaign for the magazine product that would accompany this computer launch.

Little did we know that we would be opening a crystal ball to the future by doing a simple visual ad with limited copy predicting home networking, banking from your bedroom, recipe collection, or game playing. We created the buzz, sold the magazine, and got paid subscriptions for a full year.

Successes like this were not only limited to the ingenuity of the Ziff-Davis computer magazine management, but to most domestic magazine publishers.

Direct mail campaigns, print ads, and cross promotions built title awareness that reached across all demographics. Whether it was the cross-promotion with Maxell Video Tapes and Video Review magazine in 1988, where each Maxell VHS tape had a “mini-mag,” offering a trial subscription and a promo code for selective retailers that sold the magazine at a discount. This worked so well, and demonstrated to Maxell that women were also buying VCR tapes, that it opened up new avenues for Madison Avenue to run video tape ads in magazines like Ladies’ Home Journal and Redbook. It also increased our circulation for Video Review.

A promotion in 1978 with Campbell’s Soup and Marvel Comics helped the newly reformed Marvel to reach new audiences, and was the germ of a growing business.

An End to Direct Response Subscription Marketing?

I’m sorry to say we don’t see these types of promotions anymore. I cannot remember the last direct mail package I have received for any magazine. Only a few bother to send renewal notices via snail mail. They depend instead on the internet and auto-renew programs.

Open any webpage and you’ll get hit with pop-ups (if you have your ad blocker turned off), and either you click around them or ignore them until the 30-second display has turned off. We see that reliance on digital media has cut into print sales – both for subscriptions and newsstand. I don’t think the reduction in newsstand sales is solely because of digital media. There are people reading in-depth analysis of new urban artists in Juxtapoz Magazine or in-depth critiques on the Battle of Normandy in World War II Quarterly Magazine. These magazines are selling on the newsstand and in their subscription programs. Other magazines are crying foul and it may be because of their reliance on the convenience of the internet marketing and the absence of being creative daredevils.

The loss of creative direct response marketing and the new “breed” of publishing execs who value short term growth and quick decisions to reduce or eliminate print are slowing down growth in today’s print environment.

We see retail venues like Barnes & Noble in the U.S. and Chapters-Indigo in Canada increase the number of print titles, and in some cases, represent the majority of sales for niche publishers. I say this and use the word “niche” because in 1983 PC Magazine was a niche magazine, only to become one of the top selling circulation magazines (both newsstand and subscription), until the audience of PC Magazine used the digital technology it touted and devoured itself.

But digital cannot devour History, Art, Sport and other magazine categories – it can help these categories grow in print by using creative platforms to direct consumers to retail and print subscriptions.