E-newsletter efficiency

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As the business of e-newsletters continues to explode for publishers, it brings about a host of problems and opportunities for circulators.

One big difference between e-newsletters and other print products is that e-newsletters remain largely unaudited.

At IDG, there isn't much of a barrier to subscribing to a newsletter. "We just want great response rates, and it's not audited so we asked for very few demographics, if any," said Deb Walsh, director of audience development at IDG's BIO-IT World . Initially, the publication asked only for e-mail addresses. But selling rental lists with just e-mail addresses proved difficult, so IDG began requesting business addresses and job titles.

"I originally thought I would be able to overlay the e-mail addresses onto the print circ file and get the demographics from there," Walsh said, "but often about 50% of the e-newsletter's subscribers have been nonprint subscribers." She added that extra demographic information has helped her increase the list-rental income.

Walsh is not concerned that BPA Worldwide may someday audit e-newsletters. "Until the advertisers demand it, auditing won't be done," she said. "And what they want now is just quality of leads. As long as you can deliver that, there's no need for anything else." The best way to gain strong leads, Walsh said, is to turn out a quality product and have applicable strategic alliances. "People aren't going to open an issue if it's not relevant to them," she said. To keep the file healthy, Walsh often goes through and purges people who never open the e-mail.

Presently, PennWell doesn't require much information from users to subscribe to its e-newsletters, but Adams said she thinks it's only a matter of time before this changes. "In some cases, it's a matter of getting a good base established and then as we get more than enough people reading that way, we'll see some quality control," she said. Both PennWell and IDG have often found that only 50% of an e-newsletter's subscribers are also current subscribers to the print product.

Eric Rutter, VP-controlled circulation at Reed Business Information, said that Reed tries to make its e-newsletters search engine-friendly so that they are easily found and distributed via stories from other media outlets. Walsh agreed that is a good tactic but cautioned circulators to be aware that search engines change every few months as well.

"We're all competing with Google, so whenever Google changes, you've got to change or you won't be found by Google or any other search engines," she said. Rutter agreed that circulators really need to keep their eyes on the ball. "Everything is new and everything keeps becoming new again," he said. "It can be overwhelming."

Spam is a big problem for Reed Business Information. The company is very aggressive in removing subscribers who don't click on articles over time, since these e-mail addresses are likely to get caught in spam traps. "And that just clutters things up," Rutter said.

As for deliverability, Walsh said she has never had a spam issue. She works with outside vendors to make sure the e-newsletters get through. What becomes tricky is realizing that the e-newsletter only has 24 hours to make its effect, Walsh said. "People have to respond to it in that time period or it's just gone," she said. "The window is so small." With this in mind, publishers should be extra careful in ensuring that every address on file is correct; the e-newsletter goes out with the correct subject line; and at an optimum time and day for click-throughs.

Vance Publishing Corp. is still combining its e-newsletter and print-circ files in the hopes of getting a more complete picture of its subscriber base. Some of those e-newsletter subscribers have been invited to join online panels, which has been a new revenue stream for Vance. Doug Riemer, director of circulation at Vance, said one advantage is the advertisers are able to glean important product feedback from subscribers participating in panels.

"Advertisers love it because it gives them real-time, quick feedback," Riemer said. "And we get more information because a subscriber has to offer a lot more demographic information to be part of the panel than to just subscribe to an e-newsletter."

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