Using e-mail as a publishing tool

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More than 500 years after Gutenberg unveiled the printing press and helped spread the written word by establishing a new medium for freely distributing information, the Internet has quickly put the future of print in jeopardy. 

Last year proved to be one of the most challenging years ever for magazine and newspaper publishers. Print readership levels have decreased, circulation has dwindled, and ad pages have shrunk. On the bright side, publishers that have learned to embrace the Web have actually witnessed an increase in their total audience, driven by those who are consuming their content online.

According to the Magazine Publishers of America, the number of unique visitors to consumer magazine Web sites for the first quarter of 2008 averaged around 70.7 million unique users per month, a new record. In fact, online readership is rising at twice the rate of the general Internet audience, proving the mantra that content is king.

Despite the rapid increase in online readership, publishers continue to struggle with effective ways to monetize their online content. Employing a paid subscription model is one option, but the risk of alienating your audience is high.  Instead, use the same methods that have fueled print success for so long: advertising. While many online publishers are in fact leveraging digital advertising, they are focusing more on print and still treating their online media as an afterthought. Publishers will not be able to survive the current media shift until they realize the inherent value of their online assets.

A publisher's Web site is like a newsstand; both offer readers the ability to browse through tons of content. Therefore, I believe the e-mail newsletter can essentially be likened to a subscription where readers sign up to receive unique content. Instead of getting it in their mail box, they are getting it delivered to their inbox. This is where publishers can truly maximize the value of their online content.

The inbox is the epicenter of all communication and discovery online, a destination that consumers visit to chat with friends, read news and learn about products and services. According to the American Marketing Association, consumers ranked e-mail ahead of traditional media such as newspapers, magazines and radio as a good way to learn about new products. What's more, a recent statistic by AdRelevance claims 59% of online advertising is in or around the inbox.

Unlike print, e-mail gives advertisers more bang for the buck. Besides being able to personalize a message, advertisers can select relevant content to match their ads, thus increasing the chances to reach a more targeted audience. Also, e-mails offer advertisers greater audience segmentation, and higher measurability than almost any other channel. Feedback loops including click-throughs, forwards and conversions can be tracked instantly. 

Try offering any of those benefits in print.

Establishing a successful e-mail program to sell to advertisers is simple if you employ the following tips:

  • Ask for e-mail address at EVERY customer touch point
  • Articulate a fair value proposition
  • Address privacy concerns
  • Link to examples of specific e-mails and frequency info
  • Give users enough space on forms
  • Don't ask for too much data up front
  • Do ask for the data you really need now
  • Send a confirmation message
  • Append offline data with e-mail address
  • Leverage social media

Now folks, I am not saying that we've seen the end of the ad-supported printed word. But I am saying that bankruptcies across the publishing space are a clear indication that the industry must adapt – and adopt – the channels that consumers are predominantly selecting to receive their content. The e-mail channel continues to be a No. 1 choice.

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