Five trends you need to be aware of when dealing with the convergence of print and digital circulation

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Publishers' fascination with the electronic media has been around for a while, but now technology is catching up to what many have dreamed of: digital editions, e-newsletters, webinars, Web traffic, wireless content delivery to PDAs. And while all these delivery options are exciting for publishers and subscribers, it means an onslaught of information about the end users, and that means a piling on of more responsibility for circulators/audience marketers. Here are five trends related to the convergence of print with the vast "e" landscape that are now affecting the circulation world.

1. Growth of e-products

Incorporating electronic tools has allowed publishers to generate new subscriptions, reduce postage costs both domestically and internationally and generate ancillary revenue by offering additional services and products without incurring the costs of such traditional marketing channels as direct mail or telemarketing. "These costs can be very prohibitive for smaller publishers but, if you have a bright technical person, these Web-based channels can be developed and maintained for a reasonable investment," said Jo Ann Binz, a consultant for Quality Circulation Services.

But even choosing which way to go electronically can be a real balancing act. McGraw-Hill Cos. Engineering News Record, a weekly print magazine for top contracting companies that's more than 100 years old, recently launched an e-newsletter as well as news alerts that are sent to readers' PDAs. "These guys are out and about and they're not sitting around waiting to see what will come up on the Web site, so they want that info on their PDAs," said Maurice Persiani, VP-business services at McGraw-Hill.

The growth of e-products has forced circulators to develop various levels of Web-related skills, which requires some investment in training.

"Management needs to understand the importance of investing in the technology and databases," said Christine Oldenbrook, director of marketing and e-media at Bobit Business Media. "It is critical now to have a global understanding of the audience."

Terri Smith, director of circulation at Branch-Smith Publishing, said the audience for e-newsletters is growing steadily. "The audience seems to be more interactive with our editors," she said. "We now have blogs set up for most of our publications." Smith added that the company hasn't yet delved into digital editions but is keeping an eye on the pricing and reader demand for them.

Binz said that getting everyone to work in sync on a coordinated effort is the biggest challenge, and companies need to resist the temptation to jump on the bandwagon and dispatch e-newsletters, hold webinars and send e-mail blasts. "Management needs to assign one person who is responsible for coordinating all the e-marketing efforts, so the publisher does not end up being classified as a spammer or actually alienating its audience by [engaging in] too much electronic contact," she said.

2. Changes in fulfillment

Convergence brings along a need to understand and set up new fulfillment systems that provide reports and manage data, as well as control deliverability, spam and privacy. Ideally, investments need to be made, Oldenbrook said. "Fulfillment systems will need to be different," she said. "They must interface with Web sites. They must integrate e-mail, e-newsletters, digital editions." Oldenbrook said she sees this as a challenge mostly because of the extra costs associated with these new services and the difficulty proving the return on investment.

"This emergence of electronic marketing has forced fulfillment service bureaus to step up and provide gatekeeping and reporting services for publishers who are venturing into this arena," said Binz, who has also witnessed publishers with in-house fulfillment systems suddenly look to outsource the job because of the sudden influx of responsibility over so many different products. "The privacy and spam law tracking responsibility I feel still falls on the marketing/circulation/audience development staff to be sure the rules are being observed," she said.

3. Accessing customers

With so many different means to access customers, publishers are trying to find the right way of communicating with current and potential customers. Circulation has become responsible for total audience marketing—hitting customers from every possible angle and finding ways to track responses from all possible angles.

The key to this, many circulators say, is to have all information in one database, reversing a trend of housing information in different silos. Silos still exist at Bobit, but The company is slowly merging databases along with procedures and schedules to be more efficient and to more effectively handle customers on a global scale, Oldenbrook said. She added that merged data are much more valuable to the company overall.

Abraham Langer, VP-audience marketing and Web operations at 1105 Media, said his company maintains a single database for all its products, a virtual miracle since 1105 has only come together in the last year following the purchase of a few other companies. "We decided that it was crucial to put everything in one place," Langer said. "So now we have one place to prospect out of, market webinars from, build circulation from, develop e-newsletters from and so on. It makes things much easier."

4. Collaboration with other departments

"If audience marketing isn't involved in every big decision a company makes, that company is being foolish," said Gloria Adams, director of corporate audience development at PennWell Corp. With the influx of more and more information, circulation has become a popular department for both sales and editorial. But with all that demand, it can be difficult to keep control and fulfill other responsibilities.

The sales team needs timely information—solid, audited information—and accurate competitive information, McDonagh said. "If you provide all three in an effective fashion consistent with publisher expectations, then you have done your job and the rest is up to them," she said.

At 1105, the relationship with editorial is a two-way street. Editorial can help marketers understand issues affecting subscribers and can gain information about subscribers from the circulator. "In the government market, we have been able to understand e-mail preferences and constraints on .gov and .mil e-mail addresses," McDonagh said.

Smith recommends keeping an open-door policy. "Even if I have my own opinion, perhaps the editors are grasping new trends through industry trends that I may not be picking up on," she said.

Binz noted that fulfillment houses are developing new tools that make it much easier to provide sales teams with up-to-the- minute information.

Adams agreed. "My team will kill me for saying this," she said, "but while technology has piled more work on top of the audience-marketing team, it has also made things a lot easier: We can slice and dice in all sorts of ways we couldn't in years past."

5. Telemarketing

The digitization of audience marketing will have a serious upward spike in early 2008 when BPA Worldwide will require all telemarketing calls to be recorded and stored.

The new rule is causing a lot of consternation among circulators. "It is a source of great concern," Binz said, particularly because of expected new costs to publishers.

Binz is anxious for smaller publishers that rely on in-house call centers to generate new or renewal orders for them. These centers won't be able to afford the technology, she said, to record every call, file the tapes efficiently and be able to provide them to the Audit Bureau.

1105 Media has begun testing some of its books for the telemarketing rules. McDonagh said she is happy the company is able to remain with its current vendor since it is fully equipped to record. Full results weren't in, but the government books have experienced a depression in renewal responses. "We expect our overall findings to vary by market but are hopeful we can work around this issue in time for 2008," she said.

It's hard to imagine the circulation world without digital, even though it was only a few short years ago when audience marketers were the people locked into the backrooms of publishing, filling out endless BPA statements. "It is amazing how significant the impact of the Web has been on publishing," Oldenbrook said. "Circulators/audience marketers will be very smart to position themselves as Web experts. I'm hoping my shift in this area will keep me employed until my retirement."

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