Subscribers

What Happened to Creative Subscription Marketing for Magazines?

By: John Morthanos

download.jpg

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.


Young Subscribers Flock to Old Media

By: Jason Schwartz

3.jpg

As President Donald Trump wages daily war against the press, millennials are subscribing to legacy news publications in record numbers—and at a growth rate, data suggests, far outpacing any other age group.

Since November's election, the New Yorker, for instance, has seen its number of new millennial subscribers more than double from over the same period a year earlier. According to the magazine's figures, it has 106 percent more new subscribers in the 18-34 age range and 129 percent more from 25-34.

The Atlantic has a similar story: since the election, its number of new subscribers aged 18-24 jumped 130 percent for print and digital subscriptions combined over the same period a year earlier, while 18-44 went up 70 percent.

Newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times typically do not share specific subscriber data, but according to a Post spokesperson, its subscriber growth rate is highest among millennials. A New York Times representative relayed that the paper was “seeing similar trends” in subscriptions and pointed to public data on digital traffic that showed its online reach among millennials to be up 9 percent from the same period a year ago.

Even The Wall Street Journal—not a paper usually known for being left around dorm rooms—said that it has doubled its student subscribers in the last year. And a spokesperson for the famously staid Economist reported, “We are seeing that the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups have been key drivers of new subscriptions.”

Oft derided as pampered, avocado-toast-eating layabouts, millennials have long been seen as unlikely to pay for news.

“Information wants to be free,” the cliché went, and, not long ago, headlines like, “Why Millennials Still Won't Pay Much For The News” were easy enough to find. But according to Nic Newman, the lead author of the 2017 edition of the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report, two major things have changed.

The first is that subscription streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Spotify have conditioned young people to be more willing to pay for quality content.

The second is Trump.

According to the Reuters Institute report, which surveyed more than 70,000 people in 36 countries and was published last summer, the United States was the only country studied that over the last year saw a major increase in the proportion of people who paid for online news, jumping from 9 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in 2017—and millennials were a big part of the reason.

Between 2016 and 2017, the share of Americans aged 18-24 who paid for online news vaulted from 4 percent to 18 percent, the study said; the age group 25-34 rose from 8 percent to 20 percent. Those two age groups, Newman said, collectively represent about 30 percent of the market.

To be sure, the “Trump bump” has existed across all age groups—the New Yorker reports 100 percent year-over-year increases in new subscribers for every demographic—but, in the Reuters Institute study, the millennial age brackets grew at a rate three times greater than any others, and no other age group boasted as high a percentage of people paying for news online.

“The big boost we saw in subscriptions in the U.S.,” Newman said, “is driven by people on the left and younger people are more likely to be on the left. That is really a lot of what’s driving it: young people who don’t like Trump who subscribe to news organizations that they see as being a bulwark against him.”

Newman said that 29 percent of Americans responded to the survey that their reason for paying for news was, “wanting to help support or fund journalism,” which was twice the average for all countries included in the study. Americans on the political left were four times more likely than those on the right to cite supporting journalism as their reason for paying, Newman said.

According to Sam Rosen, the Head of Growth for the Atlantic, the magazine has seen steady growth in millennial engagement over the last four years, but numbers surged after the election. Last July, Rosen ran a survey on the magazine and was struck by the results. “I noticed a really strong engagement in terms of enthusiasm for the brand among the 25-34 year old demo, as well as 18-24. And it was striking to me, because from a print standpoint, typically the Atlantic skews a bit older,” he said.

That brand identification is important, according to Stephanie Edgerly, a professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism who has studied how young people engage with news. “This is why the NPR tote bag is a big deal, this is why the New Yorker had a tote bag that was viewed as a hot commodity,” she said. “News is a brand and it stands for certain types of values you want to associate yourself with and that becomes even more important in this political climate.”

“By values I don’t want to just mean liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican,” she continued. “It’s a lot more complex than that. These stand for lifestyle values, this stands for how you see yourself, whether you want to be identified as a socially conscious intellectual who value the arts or a snarky contrarian who knows obscure political arguments.”

Rosen, from the Atlantic, said that, for younger people, he’s seen this type of broadcasting on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. “We’ve heard from even high schoolers who share Atlantic content on social media that, when they share the Atlantic, they know that they’re signaling that they’re thinking more deeply and critically about the world,” he said.

That signaling can also be a stand against Trump. Dwayne Sheppard, the vice president of consumer marketing at Condé Nast, which owns the New Yorker, said that he’s also observed a sense of brand identification—but said that, for millennials, it extends beyond social media and into the real world. Those subscribing to the New Yorker can choose between a print and digital subscription or a less expensive digital-only option; Millennials, he said, are opting for print at a rate 10 percent higher than older demographics.

“Millennials are choosing print overwhelmingly, or digital and print,” he said. “It’s a physical manifestation of the relationship. You’re on the subway or you’re in the airport and you’re carrying your New Yorker, that’s another signal of what you care about and what you choose to read.”

In the age of Trump, a dog-eared New Yorker or Atlantic may serve as a small token of resistance, but the question remains whether this trend of younger people paying for news is sustainable. Newman, from the Reuters Institute, said that even when the Trump effect wears off, millennials’ embrace of subscription services is a positive sign for the industry.

There was a strong correlation in his study, he said, between people willing to pay for streaming services for music and video and those willing to pay for news. “Other online services have basically given people the grammar by they can understand what subscription is,” he said, in terms of offering different levels of subscriptions and various types of insider benefits. (Newman acknowledged, though, that part of the connection was simply having disposable income).

Both Rosen and Sheppard are bullish that the trend will continue. Shortly after the election and around Trump’s inauguration represented the biggest surge, but “We’re not seeing a downshift or a quieting of interest in subscriptions,” Rosen said.

For all the good news, the truth remains that those willing to pay for journalism still represent a relatively small group—according to the Reuters Institute study, 84 percent of Americans do not pay for online news. Subscriptions are not cheap, and Newman pointed out that there is danger in quality journalism becoming an increasingly elite product. “The danger is that you get a two-tiered system,” he said.

Still, for an industry that has been pummeled for more than a decade by terrible financial news and, for the last 10 months, by the President of the United States, the growing willingness of millennials to open their wallets is welcome news.

“It’s not going to save journalism,” Newman said of the past year’s millennial surge, “but it’s a hopeful sign that people are prepared to pay for quality.”


Author: Jason Schwartz

Source: politico.com URL: https://goo.gl/q6s8q7