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August 11, 2005
Case Study

How to Sell More Print Magazine Subscriptions By Combining Web Plus Email

SUMMARY: Direct postal mail response rates to magazine offers have been languishing for years now. Most publishers try to supplement by planting "get the magazine" offers on their Web sites, but it's not a major home run for anyone. Discover how one publisher changed the odds by creating a clever marketing microsite and autoresponder series. The test campaign got a 5.4% paid conversion rate ... compared to 1.5% for direct mail alone.
CHALLENGE Although What Is Enlightenment? (WIE) magazine has been published in print since 1992 and had a sibling Web site since 1999, it had a hard time marketing subscriptions outside of its niche marketplace of evolving spirituality fans.

Then in spring 2005, the topic suddenly hit mainstream when a new independent film, 'What the Bleep?' became an unexpected DVD bestseller.

Delighted, Publisher Robert Heinzman yearned to take advantage of his publication's suddenly hipper-than-heck status. But his past direct postal mail campaigns hadn't had great ROI. What he did have was a site with exclusive audio interviews with many of the experts interviewed in the 'What the Bleep?' film.

Naturally, the site had an offer for the $17.95 print magazine subscription on nearly every page. Sales were rising as traffic rose, but Heinzman was tired of dribbles of growth. He wanted a surge in growth to match America's surge in interest. And why not?

CAMPAIGN First the subscription marketing team divided the marketplace into three sectors:

Sector #1. Longtime afficionados

To reach this niche, the team did barter deals with every peer publication they could, including print, email and Web publications, swapping ad for ad. They didn't worry much about cannibalization because circulation marketing stats have shown that consumers who are passionate about a topic are likely to add on more subscriptions rather than choosing between two publications.

On the other hand, the team had mailed these lists repeatedly over the years, so the easy-pickings had already probably been picked.

Sector #2. Newbies searching the Web for education

The team invested in hiring a search engine optimization firm to help them get their fair share of increased Web traffic related to terms involving science and spirituality. These consumers probably hadn't heard of WIE or its competitors yet.

Sector #3. Current site fans who haven't converted

Every publisher knows them ... true fans who visit your site to suck up free content on a regular basis but never ante up for a paid subscription. Why should they? Content is free, right?

Hard offers (buy now) probably wouldn't be optimum for any of these groups. So the team created a soft offer -- enter your email to access an exclusive content microsite. To make the content feel extra valuable and compelling, the microsite home page featured icons for audio and PDF downloads, along with regular article hotlinks.

If you clicked on any of them to get the content, a pop-up asked you to enter your email to accept a seven-day free trial. Once the email was input, the visitor had immediate access to the content.

Rather than showing off the breadth of content WIE has to offer, which might confuse newbies and certainly hurt SEO results (search engines prefer sites that are focused deeply on a single topic), the microsite featured themed content focusing on the hottest topic du jour. (See below for samples of regular home page vs microsite home.)

For group #3, fans who routinely visit WEI's main site, the team simply put barriers in front of all the previously open access content. Now they had to opt-in to get at the content for free.

Next, the team set up a six-step series of autoresponder emails to be sent to each name that opted in at either the microsite or home page. The copy was fairly soft-sell, for the most part focusing on getting the reader click for yet more free content online.

The team hoped their editorial would itself convince readers to convert. (Note: In our experience it also helps to push a specific, compelling, limited time offer for new buyers. We hope to see WIE test this in future.)

RESULTS The microsite campaign generated a 5.4% paid conversion rate and the home barrier campaign got a 7.4% paid conversion rate. (Compare this to past direct mail at 1.5%, and past site visitor-to-subscriber conversions at 1.08%.)

Names coming from print ads had the highest conversion rate at 21.2%, presumably because they went to the trouble of switching media to respond and also because the niche journals they saw the ad in pre-qualified them as prospects.

70% of all microsite visitors clicked on at least one link on the page (30% left immediately -- this is an unusually low number of leavers), 22% of unique microsite visitors opted in to receive email in return for content access.

The team also tracked which content new opt-ins were most likely to click to. Surprise, despite the wealth of famous-name audio interviews:

- 59% of visitors clicked on PDF download links; 16% listened to audio; 14% clicked on a 'subscribe' offer button; and 11% clicked to read an article.

Makes you think, huh?

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from the campaign, including landing pages and emailed autoresponders:

KUMA Interactive -- the search engine optimization firm WIE hired to help with this campaign:

What Is Enlightenment?:

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