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Why you should audit your controlled circulation lists before the new year

Print and postage costs make up a large portion of the expenses relating to publishing a magazine. And this is about to increase from 2020 thanks to a price hike by Australia Post. So it’s a good time for Australian magazine publishers who implement a controlled circulation method to audit their subscriber lists to make sure they’re providing the best possible value to their advertisers. 

What is controlled circulation? 

Controlled circulation is a way of distributing magazines to readers who have elected to receive the magazine for free and are identified as being relevant to the magazine’s special area of interest. 

Business or trade publishers generally use this method combined with a paying subscription model. 

What are the challenges of using controlled circulation distribution? 

Using a controlled circulation distribution method means you need to pay close attention to making sure that your subscribers’ details remain up-to-date, and that you keep an eye on the size of your circulation list. 

A large list of subscribers is great, but you’ve got to balance this with distribution costs when not every subscriber is paying to receive your magazine. 

So how can you make sure that your subscriber base is bringing the most value possible to your magazine? 

You get down and dirty in your subscriber data and do an audit. These are the main objectives you should address as part of your audit. 

1. Get rid of non-paying subscribers that don’t fit your advertisers’ target markets

Ideally, you shouldn’t have any non-paying subscribers on your mailing list if they aren’t providing value to your advertisers or your magazine’s overall brand. It’s a waste of money – why spend more than $2 each on posting your magazine to people that aren’t interested in it? 

When looking at the list as a whole, assess how many readers you could cull from your print circulation. Ask: 

  • Is this reader interested in the topic, content or advertisers within our magazine? 
  • Is this reader involved in making policy decisions related to the industry our magazine covers? 
  • Is there any other value that we receive – as a publisher – from posting a magazine to this reader? 

If the answer is no to each of these questions, then be ruthless and remove the reader from your list. 

But don’t discount these contacts completely. Before sending out your next magazine edition, give them a chance to become a paying subscriber. If they subscribe, that’s great – more money in your pocket. If they don’t see the value in subscribing to your content, you don’t want them on your circulation list anyway. 

2. Make sure your subscribers’ details are correct

Maintaining a controlled circulation database can be hard. Especially for a business magazine. Readers generally subscribe through their work address and email and don’t always update their details when moving onto another role, retiring, or simply moving offices. 

Processing returns should be a regular part of your subscription admin. But if it’s not, it’s worthwhile making a plan to regularly set aside time in 2020 to get on top of it. 

A big pile of magazine returns should be seen as a big pile of leaking cash. 

Make sure your mailhouse sends through a spreadsheet of the subscribers whose magazines were returned and the reason why. Then send a (personalised) bulk email to those on the list asking for updated details. If the contact has left the company, your goal should be: 

  • To find who is now the best person at that company to send a free copy of the magazine, and
  • To find out what role the previous contact has moved on to, and if it is still relevant that they receive the magazine. 

If you’ve got a way for subscribers to update their own details in your CRM, then sending out a few reminders throughout the year, should help you stay on top of managing the returns process. 

3. Maintain your optimum subscription number with the right contacts 

I can hear you saying it already: but I need to maintain a certain circulation number to keep my advertisers happy. 

It can be difficult to cull subscribers if you have competing magazines with similar circulation sizes. A dip in your magazine’s circulation could make your magazine less attractive to advertisers. 

But it shouldn’t. Your optimum circulation figure should be reflective of the number of people active:

  • In your industry or area of special interest; and, 
  • In the particular jobs/positions that your magazine targets. 

Make a list of the company types, roles and position descriptions that your magazine seeks to serve. If these aren’t currently on your subscription list, then make a plan to reach out to them with a free subscription offer. 

Remember: your advertisers aren’t going to get any value from readers who receive your magazine but aren’t interested in their products and services, so your focus needs to be on providing quality subscribers rather than the number of subscribers. 

And this needs to be communicated effectively in your overall marketing message and branding, plus your media kit via audience profiles and demographic information. It’s the perfect way to set you apart from your competitors. 

Aim for quality and areas for growth 

Your circulation audit should identify a list of non-paying subscribers that you can remove from your list, and some opportunities for you to include more valuable subscribers to your list. 

Ideally, you’ll maintain your subscriber base, but if you don’t that’s ok too. 

If you maintain your list, you won’t find any expense savings for print and post, but you’ll be confident that your distribution is providing you with the right ROI for your advertisers. 

If your list decreases, you’ll get the best of both worlds: savings on print and post, and a quality list. 

It’s not a fun task. Unless you love deep diving into spreadsheets (like me). But it’s necessary. Your circulation list is the backbone of your magazine. It drives brand awareness, reader engagement, and advertising revenue. 

Get it done. 

Written by Lyndsie Clark

Niche Publishing Network Founder and Editor Lyndsie Clark has over 10 years of niche publishing experience, working in a variety of roles spanning B2B editorial, sales, operations, events, BD, and management.

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