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Can subscriptions be the answer?

With advertising being pulled from magazines and retail sales taking a bit of a hit due to the impact of COVID-19, subscriptions seem to be on everyone’s mind.

Even toilet paper “subscriptions” are suddenly attractive, and food delivery subscriptions have gone berserk. Kids craft, books and wellbeing kits should all also be doing well.

Subscriptions are a great way to engage with clients because they are really like a ‘customer keeper’. Even letting customers suspend their subscription allows you to keep in touch with them, while providing customers with the flexibility they need should their income become less discretionary.

Believe it or not, some magazine subscriptions are experiencing significant growth since the COVID-19 outbreak. It makes sense that people still want entertainment when they’re self-isolating. And subscriptions can still be delivered safely to individuals…so why not? 

Australian Golf Digest has increased subscription marketing since COVID-19.

Australian Golf Digest had a strong online presence to begin with, but is seeing huge website traffic growth and increased social media engagement. The magazine’s shift to increased subscription marketing has capitalised on that, with sales uplifts of close to 7 per cent. 

On a monthly magazine, that really adds up in terms of numbers of magazines still being sold. 

Subscriptions are not a quick fix though. 

It’s not possible for all magazines to “pivot” to subscription marketing, as it does take some time to get established. You could never just switch subs “on or off” at will. 

Now, more than ever, you need to have a good database, be customer service focused, promote regularly and consistently, and be prepared to invest in the longer-term value of a customer. That doesn’t happen overnight.

Australian permaculture title PIP magazine is another example of a magazine that already had well-engaged social media followers focused on sustainability before the impact of COVID-19. 

PIP magazine has doubled subscription sales over the last month.

Since the pandemic, the team behind PIP has also been prepared to share more its knowledge for free, to help people through these times. 

For PIP magazine, self-isolation has been its time to shine, with a 95 per cent increase (yes, 95 per cent) in website traffic and a doubling of subscription sales in the last month. 

I’m sure gardening magazines in general have been popular lately as they can be positive and solution-focused beacons in an otherwise “scary” and negative world.

Regardless of the economic climate, some things never change in subscription marketing. Here are my top tips. 

Mix it up

  • Run some good short-term offers but give even better value on longer-term offers to reward loyalty.
  • Remind people what a great ongoing gift a subscription makes ( Mother’s Day is coming up).
  • Reconnect with lapsed customers. This is the time to remind your previous customers that you’re still around. 
  • Retention is more important than ever.
  • Try more digital subscription offers.

Spread your risk

  • Use multiple sales and marketing channels.
  • Don’t give up on retail (there’s even been some growth) – even if you must trim the print run, or combine issues, in the short term, print is still the strong cornerstone for many publishers and is very important for credibility and trust. Newsagents are still well respected and “an essential service” in the community. 
  • Find new ways of delivering your brand, for example subscription boxes, or enhance your digital offering.

I do still get asked “what’s the likely response going to be?” That hasn’t changed either. I still don’t have a crystal ball to be sure how things will work out … but firmly believe in not being a bystander.

Written by Bruna Rodwell

Bruna Rodwell has more 30 years’ experience in magazines and continues to specialise in circulation marketing, including both subscription and retail channels. From a start as Direct Marketing Manager at ACP Magazines, across all titles, to Pacific Publications, Conde Nast and FPC Magazines, Bruna has worked in all market categories. The focus has always been to ensure that circulation strategy is integrated with consumer advertising, editorial and advertising sales, to get the maximum impact for specific brands.

For the last 15 years, Bruna has consulted to a range of smaller publishers and agencies, as well as working in loyalty marketing with at NRMA Motoring & Services and Woolworths Rewards.

Current clients include: Cosmos, PIP Magazine, Graziher, Australian Golf Digest, Habitus, Indesign, Australasian Beekeeper, The Old Machinery Magazine, Vintage Trucks, and Winning.

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