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May 15, 2003
Event Wrap-up

Circulation Management Show Wrap-Up Notes: Print Folks Still Kinda Clueless About the Web

SUMMARY: If you are selling anything online and need a pick-me-up, read this short on-site conference report and feel smug.

Turns out America's traditionally-savviest direct response marketers, magazine circulation folks, are stuck two to three years back when it comes to marketing online. Find out what was hot, and what was not (hint: digital editions) at the show this week in New York City.
Weird but true: According to data presented by subscription marketing guru Dan Capal at the Circulation Management Conference in NYC, the number of print magazine subscriptions sold via Net marketing actually plummeted by 25% between 2001 and 2002.

Yes, even at the same time as online-only publishers reported rocketing subscription sales, print marketers just couldn’t make the Net work.

Part of it was, of course, because during an recession you pull back on risky marketing investments to focus on what works. The Net had to go. However, many attendees told our reporter on the spot, Andrew Benkard, that they expected that trend would reverse this year.

The Net is once again hot; sort of, anyway.

For print circulation marketers it is still all about email. (In fact many speakers used the term "Internet" to refer strictly to email, as though the terms are one and the same.) They do not plan to invest more in their sites. They may spend a little money with online subscription sale aggregators such as Synapse, but no one mentioned the two tactics that have been killer apps for online subscriptions:

1. Search marketing: This may be the only direct response marketing show in 2003 where Google and Overture were not mentioned. Pay per click campaigns are the hottest thing since sliced bread, and print circulators are mainly ignoring it.

2. Co-registration marketing: Although a handful of forward- thinking magazines such as Reader's Digest have been making trial offers via co-registration for more than a year now, it is not a term that came up anywhere in the show that our reporter was aware of.

What was hot?

Direct postal mail still very much rules the roost. Benkard says, "I went to a breakout session on testing DM package, and it was totally mobbed. All the seats were taken so lots of people were standing in the back and in the door." The factoids everyone eagerly took notes on included things like whether you should put a live stamp or a printed indicia on your reply envelope for orders.

(No, no one suggested you send orders to sign up online instead, despite strong evidence in other industries that consumers are beginning to prefer online sign-up even for offline offers.)

The big alternate marketing tactic is, wait for it, telemarketing.

Which, given upcoming Federal do-not-call lists, may be a tactic that is not dying but certainly not in an upward trend. (Note: According to the DMA, response marketers spend more on telemarketing in 2002 than any other medium.)

The fact is even though telemarketing has high-costs-per-order, it is familiar. Also, in times of fear, familiarity is like a cuddly teddy bear.

Which, we suppose, is why email is the favored online tactic among circulation marketers. Because on the surface it feels a lot like direct postal mail. You rent a list, you do creative, you mail the campaign, you get orders.

However, in several sessions, folks were fretting about the filter issue. How too much of the mail they send is being filtered so response rates are going down. Lots of annoyance voiced toward those darn email broadcast vendors who can not make sure all the mail gets through.

It was with a sense of irony that Benkard noted in one session that the number of attendees who said they collect and use names on an opt-out basis was five times the number who used opt-in. "We'd go out of business if we had to ask permission," said one marketer self-righteously.

Then he wondered why his mail was likely to be filtered.

One session attracted far fewer attendees than organizers expected: Digital editions.

The show organizers put the speakers (PC Magazine, eWeek and Barrons) in a big room, and it looked like fewer than half the seats were filled. Nevertheless, the speakers were for the most part enthusiastic about their digital editions.

(Digital editions are laid out to look like the print publication, only with clickable ads, and are emailed to recipients.)

PC Magazine with 1.2 million print subs reported that 100,000 now get the digital edition. Barrons reported about 1,000 subscribers pay $145 a year to get the digital edition only.

Nobody would say, even when explicitly asked, what the open or click rate on their digital editions are. When folks will not give a number that basic, you have to guess it is likely to be bad news.

In other sessions, marketers did reveal open rates are falling a bit for newsletters and circulation campaigns.

Primedia's Darcy Miller reflected how this had influenced the print magazine world. In the past print publishers had assumed that when the magazine hit your mailbox, you opened it, read it, and then perhaps passed it on to a friend.

However, although they have tried to determine true reading via surveys and focus groups, no one has ever known for sure how many print issue covers really got opened.

Results from email newsletters have led some to the shocking conclusion that maybe their print magazines are not as read as they thought. If paying subscribers wil not even bother to open a great email update edition, are they cracking a printed cover?

The Internet, or email at least, is making the print world aware of measurability and reality in a new way that is not entirely easy for some to stomach.

Note: Thanks to reporter Andrew Benkard who shared his notes from the show. All mistakes or errors in the above are our fault and not his.

You can learn about Benkard's interactive marketing services at:
See Also:

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