Reports of Mag Subscription Card's Demise a Bit Exaggerated

Publishers Still Highly Value the 'Blow-in' as Way to Get Readers

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NEW YORK ( -- A lot of magazine lovers were happy to read a New York Times blog item Friday that was headlined "Subscription Cards, R.I.P."

Blow-in cards don't appear to be going away anytime soon.
Blow-in cards don't appear to be going away anytime soon.
"As print culture morphs into web culture, one of the things I thought I wouldn't miss about magazines are subscription or 'blow-in' cards," the Times blogger wrote, "those obnoxious rectangles that come flaking out of new issues like so much intellectual dandruff, scaring pets and scattering to the far corners of the living room."

"But now," the post went on to say, "subscription cards really do seem to be on the verge of vanishing."

It's true that magazines are getting better at seeking new subscribers online. Hearst recently installed a new system to help with precisely that, and the company said its Food Network Magazine launch has gained a surprising amount of subscriptions that way. The Magazine Publishers of America said last month that the proportion of new subscriptions sold online, by third-party subscription agents as well as by magazines themselves, will increase to 22% this year from 13% in 2006.

And The Times blog cited the new decision by The Believer, a literary magazine, to drop the cards, following Outside magazine's elimination of the cards from subscriber copies last year. Outside's publisher said today that it's done the same with a sibling title, Outside Go.

Despite all that, however, the bigger truth is that you will see those cards falling on your floor, the sidewalk, bus aisles and subway floors for many years to come.

Alive and well
"It's one of those things that caught hold in the media, but they're alive and well and we'll continue running them," said Leigh Bingham, subscription director in consumer marketing at Bonnier, publisher of titles including Field & Stream, Popular Science and Ski. "They're actually very good subscribers, they tend to pay, they tend to renew. So we like them actually quite a bit."

They're also desirable because they establish a direct connection between the publisher and the reader, unlike subscriptions rustled up by those outside agents. And magazine websites' direct subscription sales still have not, for the most part, caught up with blow-in cards.

Blow-in cards are responsible for 5% to 10% of new subscriptions at Bonnier, paling in comparison with direct mail and other sources such as partnerships, but its websites' sales of new subscriptions directly to readers still runs as low as 2% to 6%, Ms. Bingham said.

For another thing, blow-in cards are often profitable from the start. "It's very inexpensive compared to direct mail," Ms. Bingham added. "A lot of times you can make money at acquisition, whereas with other sources you're waiting for renewal to make any money."

The cards also do things that the web can't, said another subscription executive at another major magazine publisher. "When you've got the magazine right there in your hands, you can fill out a card to keep it coming to your mailbox," he said. "The internet is great, but it doesn't duplicate that and it doesn't replicate that. Insert cards are a very large and very profitable part of our business and will be for years -- and years and years -- to come."

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