March 29, 2007
Case Study

How The Boston Globe Lifted Electronic Edition Subscriptions 145%

SUMMARY: The Boston Globe, like many other metro newspapers, has had an electronic edition since 2000, but it wasn't a top priority for their circulation or marketing departments.

In an effort to reduce expenses and maintain circulation, they decided to market the electronic edition as an add-on product instead of a standalone. Their efforts are paying off: subscriptions have already increased 145%. Includes segmentation tips and test results.
Electronic editions of daily newspapers -- digital copies that maintain the layout, graphics and ads of a print paper -- seem like outcasts in the online content world. They’ve been slow to take off, as some technologies require special software to read them. And robust media Web sites that offer lots of content beyond a newspaper’s basic articles have attracted more of the online audience.

Yet, hundreds of publications have soldiered on with their electronic editions, even if they weren’t a big focus for circulation and marketing departments. That was the situation at The Boston Globe when Jill Kremins took over as VP Circulation and Brand Marketing in March 2006.

She had her team look at the Globe’s electronic edition to determine its role in an overall strategy to reduce expenses and maintain circulation. The tool had potential, if focused on the right niches. “There were so many other things we could be doing with it if we were more actively marketing to certain segments of customers,” Kremins says.

Kremins decided it made sense to market their electronic editions not as a standalone product for new subscribers, but as an add-on product for existing customers, who were familiar with the print edition and might want an electronic version that maintained the same look and layout. Here are the four steps they took:

Step #1. Analyze subscriber database for potential segments

To find potential audiences for an electronic edition, the team examined existing circulation data, concentrating on:

o Age and demographics
o Geography
o Readership habits

“What we’re really doing is looking for patterns of behavior,” says Kremins.

Step #2. Choose target audience

Based on those factors, they focused sales on three customer segments:

- Subscribers who spent part of the year outside New England, such as “Snowbirds” who winter in Florida and other warm locales
- Customers in the far reaches of the Globe’s circulation area, some 200 New England ZIP Codes where, due to logistical issues, only the Sunday newspaper was offered for home delivery
- Students, teachers and other educational customers, as part of the international Newspapers in Education program

Step #3. Promote through in-paper inserts

Because the team wanted to reach existing print subscribers, one marketing technique was to place fliers promoting the electronic edition in daily or Sunday home deliveries:

- One promotion specifically targeted snowbirds. It offered subscribers “heading South for the winter,” an electronic edition of the daily newspaper for an introductory rate of $4.13 a week -- 50% off the regular home delivery rate.
- A second flier was aimed at a more general audience and highlighted features of the electronic edition, such as the ability to zoom in on stories and photographs, searchability and on-demand back issues.

Step #4. Offer electronic editions as add-ons in telemarketing pitches

Kremins’ team also tested campaigns for the electronic edition through the newspaper’s subscription telemarketing efforts.

- One test targeted Sunday-only subscribers in circulation areas where daily newspaper delivery was unavailable, offering instead the ability to receive the daily electronic edition along with a Sunday hard copy.
- A second test targeted Sunday-only subscribers who were within the daily delivery area. The telephone representatives first offered those subscribers the chance to add a print daily edition. Those who said no were then offered a daily electronic edition instead.
A product that had been ignored is now getting attention: The number of individual electronic edition subscribers has increased 145%. And the number of electronic editions being sent to schools has grown from zero to 6,000. “We’re really excited about it. Especially in the education area, it’s exceeded our expectations,” Kremins says.

Telemarketing tests have shown a good response to the electronic edition as an add-on:

- 11% of the Sunday subscribers outside the Globe’s daily delivery area choose to ad an electronic edition.
- Sunday-only subscribers within the daily delivery area also responded better to offers for an electronic edition. 14% added an electronic edition to their subscriptions, compared with a typical acceptance rate of 8% for a daily print subscription.

The team is also pleased with their initial outreach to snowbirds, even though they can’t yet track marketing codes in electronic edition sales. However, they saw at least 125 new electronic edition subscriptions after running the snowbird ads.

Now, Kremins will conduct more marketing tests and plans to study retention numbers to learn more about the electronic edition acceptance and potential.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from The Boston Globe’s Electronic Edition

Newsstand Inc. - provides electronic edition

The Boston Globe:

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