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Leveraging partner sites

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Consumer electronics, online sales of which surged during the 2005 holidays, aren't the only thing selling online. Some magazine publishers are enjoying increasing success using Web sites-often, those of partners-to generate qualified controlled circulation.

PennWell attributes its success in finding qualified circ for its controlled books to spreading the word as far and wide as possible. This can include banner ads on its own sites, banners on other sites-which it either pays or trades for-or Web subscription services. "The most important thing is to get quality names and go from there," said Gloria Adams, VP-audience development.

PennWell also works with Web-subscription services, such as Netline, which bring it new names every month. If the prospective subscriber meets all PennWell's needs, the Web subscription company is paid a prearranged price per name.

To ensure that the names are good, Adams suggests working with the vendor to be sure they have good filters in place. "Every once in a while, we just do spot checks to be sure everything is the way it should be," she said.

Farming publication High Plains Journal sells subs only on its Web site, but it buys Google keywords and uses a variety of third-party sites to bring Web traffic to its subscription landing pages. It also garners traffic from farm-related online directories it has pulled together.

Combined, the initiatives generate about 73 new subscribers each month. "The great thing is we really have barely any cost in gaining the subscription," said Jeff Keeten, circulation manager.

Regarding partnering, Keeten said even if these arrangements only bring in a few subs, it's worthwhile.

"To me, it's all about getting traffic to the site," he added. "We put that address on anything that anyone could ever possibly see. Once we get them there, then we can worry about getting subscriptions from them."

By pushing online hard, High Plains Journal is reaching farmers outside its core area. "And we spend basically no money marketing to them," Keeten said. Another benefit is advertising revenue, specifically in the form of self-administered classified ads. "It costs nothing to bring in," Keeten said. "People just fill out the forms online. It's basically found money for us."

Dave Rock, director of online/partnerships at Ziff Davis, suggested circulators break down online subs into two parts: what you control in-house and what you don't. With every touch point you control in-house, he said, there should be an option to subscribe. For instance, he suggests offering subscriptions to both digital editions and print editions, with different price points for each.

"You can also decide areas that you don't want to ship to, such as international, and only offer digital there," he said. "But the key is to get them the information so they subscribe one way or the other."

Partnering doesn't have to be just link exchanges, Rock said, noting that digital list exchanges are great, too.

"It's not unheard of for us to say, `I'll do a blast for you if you do a blast for me,' " he said. "The further you spread your tentacles into the online world, the more possibilities you have for bringing in subscribers."

For example, Ziff has gone to some large companies and arranged to embed subscription links within their Web sites. These links bring visitors to a subscription landing page on Ziff's servers.

Circulators that use Web sites for circulation prospecting caution that publishers need to avoid oversaturating new e-mail addresses. PennWell allows five attempts at an e-mail address before the name is pulled from the list. 

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