NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a potential advance for the forces of paid content, The Economist is introducing a trial program today that lets New Yorkers use their cellphones to order overnight home delivery of the new issue at the regular newsstand price.
New Yorkers who have signed up for weekly texts announcing each issue's topics will also receive a URL for a web page they can visit to order the issue. Those who order by 9 p.m. are guaranteed a hand-delivered copy by 6 a.m. the next morning -- in time to beat the commute. The weekly texts go out on Thursday afternoons, meaning recipients can get overnight copies before newsstands get them at about 9 a.m.
In England, where The Economist first tried the approach two months ago, people who have preregistered can just reply to the text messages to get their overnight copies. The Economist hopes to have that simpler system in place by the time it widens the New York trial to cover the entire U.S.
Traditional publishers of all stripes have been trying to figure out the best way to get consumers to pay for their content despite the deluge of free competition. Most recently the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette introduced a subscription-only website this week that includes exclusive content, blogs, videos, live chats and social interaction.
The Economist's on-demand delivery service aims to make it easier for occasional readers to buy on demand. It also can't hurt at a time when magazines' newsstand sales have been hammered by the recession, which has made people more careful with spending and less apt to visit stores.
"The idea is that you're a reader of The Economist or curious about The Economist," said Paul Rossi, the publisher for North America, adding: "One of the strategies of The Economist has been to get copies into people's hands, to get trial, to get sampling, to get people closer to the magazine. This is an extension. We don't see it necessarily as cannibalizing newsstand, but it's just another way to for another group of people to get a copy."
Overnighted copies cost $6.99, just like newsstand copies readers have to go get themselves. The Economist says the resulting circulation revenue is just as profitable because the delivered copies don't require giving cuts to retailers or wholesalers.
The circulation generated through the cellphone program is likely to remain very small as a proportion of the whole. In England, the number of buyers via text has numbered "hundreds not thousands a week," Mr. Rossi said. "As a percentage, that's not very much."
But the hope is the system will give The Economist better insight on its occasional buyers, such as the news subjects to which they respond most.