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THIS YEAR, GIVE THE GIFT OF MAGAZINES, PLEASE

Time Inc. Puts Subscription Option in Front of Shoppers at Retail

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After many holiday seasons spent trying to turn magazine subscriptions into hot gifts, with modest results at best, publishers are taking another crack.

Photo: Hoag Levins
Time Inc. hopes to sell more than half of the 75,000 to 100,000 Giftscriptions units it is distributing to retailers like Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Books-a-Million and Best Buy.
The most prominent attempt may be a retail product from Time Inc. called Giftscriptions, a red-and-white box containing a booklet from which recipients can choose among 50 magazines published by a variety of companies. The idea is to lend some physical heft to a gift that has more often arrived as a note, gift card or in other ethereal presentations that scream stocking-stuffer, at best.

Whether or not this latest effort will work remains to be seen, but publishers consider these sorts of efforts worth it because gift subscriptions can be so lucrative. Gifts subscriptions are not inconsequential in scale, either. About 10% of magazine subscriptions begin as gifts, and about 95% of those are generated during the winter holiday season, said Dan Capell, a circulation expert and president at Capell & Associates.

“While it’s not the biggest source of subscriptions, it is a profitable one,” said Deede Dickson, VP-business development, Time Direct Ventures, which developed Giftscriptions with the help of the TippingSprung brand consultancy. “In the past, magazine publishers enjoyed upwards of an 80% renewal rate; people who gave gifts one year would give it the next. You’d send out written reminders that you’d given your spouse or friend or mother a subscription, and upwards of 80% renew.”

Time Inc. hopes to sell more than half of the 75,000 to 100,000 Giftscriptions units it is distributing to retailers like Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Books-a-Million and Best Buy, some of which are also offering the boxes on their Web sites. They cost $19.95 in most stores and $17.95 at Wal-Mart.

“This has been tried before,” said Chip Block, vice chairman, USApubs, a national marketer of magazine subscriptions. “It never has worked. More power to them if it does.”

Part of the problem is that most holiday shopping takes place at retail, where subscriptions are typically unknown, said Susan Allyn, VP-circulation marketing, TV Guide Publishing Group. “The challenge is that most people don’t walk into a retail store, even if they’re going in looking for a gift, looking for a magazine as a gift,” she said.

“Is this going to be a blockbuster?” Ms. Allyn added. “It hasn’t in the past, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be.”

The Giftscriptions packages offer Time Inc. titles like Time, Sports Illustrated and Real Simple; Conde Nast Publications magazines including Details, Glamour and Wired; Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. books such as Car and Driver; and other magazines including Reader’s Digest and Smithsonian.

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