Survivor: Publisher's Island

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Welcome to Survivor: Publisher's Island. The rules are simple: there are no rules. And your competition is… pretty much everyone. Here's what the obstacle course looks like: consumer spending is down, ad pages are in the toilet, postage and material costs continue to rise. How's a publisher supposed to survive this game?  The answer right now is “cut circulation” and it might be the survival tip for many publishers.

For years many magazines took on highly unprofitable, often questionable, subscriptions to inflate their circulation numbers and attract more advertisers.  These subscribers offered a poor lifetime value. They were simply bad alliances that would leave the team at a moment's notice. Now, advertisers are leaving or looking for other teams to back and the costs to acquire and renew subscribers have never been higher.

By cutting your rate base to focus on a more engaged, higher-quality core audience, you can ensure your advertisers that you are reaching subscribers that will offer a higher lifetime value, are easier to renew, and more loyal to the brand.  Although the subscriber universe is down, advertisers should relish quality over quantity.  This higher quality audience will be more receptive to targeted offers.  Shedding the dead weight of unprofitable sources and price shoppers allows publishers to focus on this core audience and keep their heads above water despite this down economy.

Publishers can also realize substantial magazine production material cost savings such as paper, printing, and postage by decreasing circulation.  In addition to these savings marketing acquisition costs will also decrease by not mailing as deep into lists resulting in a more profitable cost per order.

Cutting circulation is often viewed as a desperate move, but I think it is a long-term strategic decision that will shape your publication's future. Moving away from “subscriptions at any cost” is the best course of action to win the game. The tribe has spoken!

Peter Stein is director of business development at Canterbury Graphics Strategic Marketing, a privately held direct-marketing agency specializing in the marketing strategy, design and production of direct marketing campaigns. Contact Peter at 203-529-4840 or


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