Magazine sources - circulation finds ways to deliver

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When you've worked with magazines long enough, you realize that magazine economics are complex. That's primarily because of circulation economics.

There are many ways magazines can reach their markets. Each costs more or less than another. In circulation, profit occurs over time. Often, a subscription does not earn a profit until it's renewed for the second or third time or even longer, so, when working to fine-tune acquisition efforts, you need to know exactly where your orders come from, how many you can count on from each source and what those orders cost.

Because budgets are stretched thinly, here are a few suggestions to maximize response from reliable, direct-to-publisher sources:

Direct mail is the source relied on to bridge the gap between the number of subscriptions delivered and the number of subscriptions received from all other sources. It's flexible -- you can mail more or fewer pieces, or test offers, price and creative -- but it is expensive.  However, it's one of the most reliable sources because it's consistently projectible.

For direct mail campaigns, concentrate testing on elements that are known to be sensitive: offer, price and lists. Nothing will give a magazine a bigger lift in response than a hot, new list or a better, stronger offer. Testing lists, offer and price can be accommodated by most magazine testing budgets.

Insert cards are low cost, but many publishers find orders seasonal. Declining newsstand sales will put fewer cards into prospects' hands, resulting in fewer insert card orders over the years. To lift response, change your cards frequently. Use your best-selling newsstand covers as artwork. You should, of course, make a strong offer, but don't sell too hard -- the prospect has the magazine right there.

Gift business is good business. Promote your best renewing sources for gifts using low-cost efforts such as tip-ons or onserts. As with insert offers, practice moderation; it usually doesn't pay to use lavish promotions or promote outside the magazine's own subscription file for new gift business.

For a completely different approach, look to your magazine's Web site. Maximizing response from your site and driving prospects there is a worthy endeavor. We have found, however, that neither e-mail promotions nor Web orders can replace production from more traditional sources for magazine subscription sales, which is why managing sources and tracking them is important to circulation success.

The more subscriptions you keep each year, the fewer new orders you have to sell. Remember that first-time renewals renew best if allowed to convert at the price of the original order, and renewals from different sources may require different approaches in terms of price, offer and number of renewal efforts. Renewal testing takes a little time, but the payoff can be huge.

Elaine Tyson is the president of Tyson Associates Inc. You may reach her at tysonassoc@aol.com.

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