If you're relying on subscriptions alone for revenues, you could be missing up to 67% of your publication or site's sales potential. That's what both b-to-b and b-to-c publishers told us at the 28th Annual NEPA Convention this week in Washington DC.
According to the last formal study in 1995 of the then-$2 billion subscription newsletter, subscription publishers made roughly 40% of the revenues on average from ancillary offerings. These might be anything from conferences to vitamin supplements, but were seen as an add-on to the main subscription business.
As David Foster, President IOMA, said, "From 1982-1999 we thought, why launch ancillaries when every new (subscription) newsletter is a $300,000 product?"
But, ancillaries aren't on the sidelines anymore.
Buffeted by the twin forces of free Internet content and the recession, publishers broadened their revenue bases. Now, although nearly everyone's subscription businesses are on the rise again, publishers no longer want to rely on subscriptions as the single -- or even main -- revenue stream.
In fact, most publishers we spoke with said they prefer a three-legged revenue stool, with 1/3 of cash from subscriptions, 1/3 from conferences and audio-events, and 1/3 from other ancillaries including ads, reports, and possibly consulting.
Example: Bruce Guzowski, CEO HCPro said, "Seminars and consulting are one third of our business. Books and reports are seeing high-octane growth. Subscription revenues are almost less than one third of revenues, and I like to see them in that spot." Ancillaries publishers are rolling out aggressively:
1. Audioconferences (aka teleseminars or webinars)
Jim Sinkinson, Founder Infocom Group, said his subscription products are showing "dramatic attrition", so he's ramping up audioconferences instead. "We'll do 26 this year." He figures instead of spending $600 a year for a print newsletter featuring tips on pitching particular journalists, PR pros might spend $249 per 90-minute teleconference on the same topic. So far it's working.
2. Real-world conferences
John Voss, COO at Alert Global Media, said their annual conference on anti-money laundering, has beat out 65-competitors to attract 950+ attendees and 46-exhibitors. How? They control the speaker content quality as carefully as their sibling newsletter editorial staff control the written word.
To maximize revenues, they also market heavily on the Web (25% of ticket sales now come from Web buyers who are not their traditional newsletter subscribers), and act tough with the hotels. Voss notes hotels are great at ripping off conference organizers. His tips:
- Hotels should write you a check for 10% of all room nights your attendees stayed with them for, because you served as their marketing agent.
- Bid food to outside vendors, and order for fewer breakfasts than you have attendees (folks skip early meals.) Require the use of drink and meal tickets so you have an accurate count of food and drinks served.
- Schedule your event in conjunction with third party related events (including vendor user-conferences) to catch attendees who might hit both.
3. "One offs"
These might be books, reports, related products, sponsorship sales, or even mailing list rentals. (In fact, several publishers we spoke with said they weren't selling many ads, but sponsorships were hopping. Remember a paid pub often has a higher brand value to the advertiser than a free one does.)
If you publish a directory that marketers tend to keypunch to create lists from, consider making it super-easy to buy the list online with a credit card. Sinkinson uses his site to automate list sales and delivery process. (Obviously you'll need more controls for a responder list that people couldn't get their hands on otherwise.)Tweaking subscription offerings to work harder:
Keynote speaker Alfred Rolington CEO Jane's Information Group, sounded a note of alarm. Sales may be up, but in the long term subscription offerings will continue under siege from free competition.
- Consider the students of today who've sent the music industry into a tailspin by latching onto free downloads.
- Consider how Encyclopaedia Britannica's print sales withered and died after PC makers began shipping computers with Encarta CDs.
There are two answers to creating blatantly must-have subscription products the new generation will pay for:
1. Narrow your focus (even more)
Richard Ossoff, President Strafford Publications, said his old b-to-b $350 year subscription publications with 700-1,000 subscribers are a thing of the past. He's switching to $1200 year micro-niche pubs with targeted circs of "well under 200."
Will it work? Ossoff's seen enough success with an early test that he's rolling out five-seven more titles this year.
2. Figure out what subscribers are really buying
It's not content. Rolington noted parents didn't buy encyclopedias for their kids because anyone spent much time reading them -- "Britannica was selling guilt. That was the real motivation for buying."
No one wants "articles" or "information". They do want happier lives. Which explains why so many stock advisory publishers at the conference said they're rapidly launching more titles and business is booming. It's about selling wealth.
Dozens of publishers said they've been ramping up their use of online surveying tools like SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang to ask subscribers what they really want. However, LexisNexis (TM) Director of Market Planning Scott Jacobs said if you really want to understand subscribers' underlying motivators, take them out to lunch. Literally.
He and his team are scheduled to go on road trips quarterly, meeting with law firm subscribers in person. "Don't have a list of questions," he advised. "Approach them as if you're visiting a neighbor. Talk about what they do, their cases, their careers. Try to make it as natural as you can." He's tested traditional focus groups as well, but found these informal conversations are more valuable for creating products and marketing campaigns that strike home.
3. Don't assume subscribers want bells and whistles
Just because you can use the Web to offer more features to subscribers, doesn't mean people want them.
Robin Crumby, Managing Director of Melcrum Publishing, said his team launched a glorious subscription service for communications execs in the UK and US that included an ezine, an email discussion group for "knowledge sharing", and members-only access to Web site packed with research and resources, along with a standard printed newsletter.
Despite pre-launch research indicating this was the service execs needed badly, the product failed. "It was a dog title. A dog with fleas to be fair."
After meeting with prospects to research the disaster, Crumby's team relaunched the product. Subscribers would get a 10x year printed newsletter and that's all. "Now it's a rising star. We simplified the proposition. They just didn't understand it before."Marketing tips from the show
Everyone said direct mail response rates were up. Not as high as the glory days of the 1980s (no one expects that ever again), but definitely up high enough to be worth testing. As one publisher told us, "Even number ten packages are working. They used to be so tired...."
That said, most attendees wanted to learn more about online. Our straw poll showed 90% of attendees already use both email newsletters and broadcast campaigns to market ancillaries, if not subscriptions. The main frustration was lack of lists. "The ROIs are great, but quantity is still relatively small. List volume is a problem," griped Martin Weiss, Chairman of Weiss Group Inc.
And, although only about 20% of attendees we spoke with admitted they were currently doing search marketing, everyone said they planned to shortly. The biggest question wasn't "Should we do it?" but rather "How much should we budget?"
As for online campaign landing pages, Craig Huey, President of Creative Direct Marketing Group, said according to his tests a two-column format works better than three. And the main (wider) column should be the left-one. "Putting bios, testimonials, and links in the left-side decreased response."
He also advised online copywriters, "Let readers know it's in their self interest to send you money, and make it easy to read on the screen. Keep 65-75% of your words at five-letters or less. Use 20-words or less per sentence. Paragraphs should be four-lines or less."
Last but not least, MarketingSherpa's Publisher Anne Holland told the crowd to test the copy on all click buttons. "If it says 'submit' or 'continue', you are losing conversions. Button copy can be longer and more persuasive than you think." Useful link related to this article:
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