Web feathering mag numbers

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Subscription clubs and blow-in cards aren't ready for retirement yet, but direct marketers have become more optimistic about using the Web for gaining new magazine subscriptions.

Consumer magazines expect a 50% increase this year in the number of new subscriptions gained online, according to CircTrack 2000, an annual report put out by Dan Capell, editor of the newsletter Capell's Circulation Report. In 1999, 7% of new magazine subscriptions came from Internet sales, which was up from 4% in 1998. For 2000, the figure is predicted to be around 10%.

For Ziff Davis Media, the publisher of 4-year-old Yahoo! Internet Life, online subscription sales actually account for about 90% of its sales.

BUILDING YAHOO!

Picking up new subscribers online is "primarily how we've been able to build the circulation for Yahoo! Internet Life," says Publisher Andrew Kramer, adding that as of last month, the magazine's subscription base is 1 million. "We sell between 80,000 and 100,000 copies per issue on the newsstand, so we have 900,000 subscriptions that have been sold primarily online."

Luring potential subscribers is rather easy for the magazine, as it targets browsers using the Yahoo! search engine.

Other marketers aren't necessarily looking for the same results as Ziff Davis, but they do see an opportunity to reach potential new subscribers online.

"The Web exposes a brand to a much wider potential audience," says Andrew Portnoy, director of marketing for Business Week Online. He says Business Week will promote online subscription sales more aggressively in the fourth quarter. This means giving more space on the Web site to subscription offers and e-mailing the site's list of registered users with an offer to subscribe at a highly competitive rate.

"We've shown nice success in the limited way we are currently offering subscriptions on the Web and we are expecting a geometric rise once we ramp up," says Mr. Portnoy.

Meredith Corp. has been selling Better Homes & Gardens and Wood subscriptions online for over three years and, says Karla Jeffries, Meredith's VP-consumer marketing, its "efforts and goals have gotten more aggressive in the past year."

For example, the company recently tested a three-month program with New York City-based HotSocket that took browsers on Yahoo! and other popular Web sites directly to an informational page and subscription form after they clicked on a banner ad for a specific magazine.

PAGES TWEAKED

HotSocket, whose other publishing clients include Reader's Digest and Rolling Stone, owns software that automatically tweaks these pages based on previous responses, for example by offering the promotional gift with the best track record.

"Direct marketers learn what's working, what's not and they can change the offer immediately," says Dev Bhatia, founder of HotSocket.

One benefit of online direct marketing, he says, is changes can be made quickly, making any mistakes less expensive to change than with snail mail.

In the Better Homes & Gardens case, the first test focused mostly on informing visitors about the magazine. But, during the course of the test, it was discovered that what consumers responded to most were promotional offers. As a result, the program is currently being revamped to focus more on such offers to find out which graphics and which gifts work best. The new solicitations are expected sometime this fall.

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