Outlook 2006: Mining Web's Potential Replaces Digital Edition Mindset

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It would be easy to dwell on the problems circulators and their fulfillment providers face this year, from the clutter of new products and reduced response rates to increased postal rates. But the year also should be exciting and rewarding for those who have laid the groundwork in one or more of these areas: digital content, online newsletters, online subscriber services, cross selling, list maintenance, partnerships and international subscriptions.

Those who embraced these goals have not been barking up the wrong tree. Media companies recognize that to be considered a one-stop shopping portal for their targeted audience they need to make the content available in as many platforms as possible.

Going digital is not merely having a digital edition, an electronic replica of the printed magazine. Internet experts recognized this early on but it took publishers a little longer. Now they know their readers look to the Web site for breaking news and the magazine for analysis.

Publishers also are coming to terms with the need to integrate content and databases under one interactive umbrella. What a rich vein of data can be mined, data that the print products have been amassing for some time. Best of all, fulfillment systems are in place and grooved nicely so it is not like starting from scratch when the publisher wants to launch a product or integrate existing ones.

Bundling electronic with print. Publishers are reducing postal and printing costs with digital magazines. They can build international circulation cost effectively by giving those subscribers a choice between free digital editions or paid print ones. And is there any publisher who doesn't have an online newsletter?

After launching these electronic products as independent of print, publishers are involving their circulation managers and fulfillment providers, consolidating the databases, sharing data, using the appended data to develop more targeted products and using intuitive means to cross-sell.

One online subscriber form solicits requests for both print and electronic products. This can reduce costs for renewals and requalifications for the print products, because more e-mail addresses are captured so blasts can be done.

In the past three years, we have helped publishers take their subscriber Web forms from vanilla to dynamic, with frames that emulate the publication home page and renewal pages prepopulated with the subscriber name and address. Also, more products are being offered and bundled into a shopping cart model, with intuitive targeted cross-selling based on the demographics just provided.

I think this year will see many more ancillary products offered with the periodical, including single-copy sales. It's a great way to extend the branding. By being able to track sales to one buyer, the circulation manager will have terrific marketing data. We're also seeing more partnerships, with unique Web addresses to track the orders.

Creativity. Once circulators are freed of the back-office details, Web hosting and other elements that service bureaus handle so efficiently, they can devote themselves to creative marketing activities like making deals with partners and working with other departments on new products.

There seems to be a move on to try to convert free to paid, especially outside the heart-of-market categories, to bring in more revenue. Publishers are asking whether it's time to charge for online premium content. And marketers are again testing direct mail because of the clutter and filters with e-mail. It's definitely the year to test, which requires careful planning and attention.

With the remote Internet access to their files for just-in-time reports, list counts and queries, circulators can have the information they need without feeling they have lost control. It's a higher level of hands-on. It's also a matter of trust. Sometimes circulators drown in minutia because they think they cannot trust anyone else to merge a new list or answer a subscriber's call. And that's a shame.

This is a year of opportunity for both consumer and business-to-business circulators. It's time to launch the creative spirit and to use the technology now in place to take audience development and product branding to the next level.

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