NEW YORK — Advertising Age's experience with generating registrations and subscriptions for its Web and digital editions is instructive for business-to-business publishers struggling over those issues.
A need to know its online readers better, combined with confidence in the pulling power of its brand, catapulted registrations on its site at www.adage.com from 50,000 to the current 250,000.
“What it does for us is it gives us more data upfront,” Philip Scarano, circulation director at New York-based Ad Age, told circulators at the recent Circulation Management Conference & Expo's session on “Building a Web-based Powerhouse.”
Mandatory registration for online access also lets the Crain Communications Inc.-owned Ad Age grow online ad sales against a targeted audience. The pool of e-mails for rent to third parties increased and so did cross-promotional opportunities.
Ad Age's strategy with its digital edition, which is a copy of the weekly newspaper, was similarly developed. Access was free to print edition subscribers, but only when bought as a combo package with the newspaper.
Scarano said Ad Age now has 3,000 paid subscribers for the digital edition since debuting in November. Subscribers get the digital edition on Sunday night, a few hours ahead of the Monday delivery of the print version.
The digital edition did cause concern. Groups within Ad Age wanted to sell the print edition and feared cannibalization from the upstart. Scarano pointed out that the digital edition wasn't a new product, simply a reproduction of the newspaper in a different channel.
“It's really all about subscribing to the brand,” he said.
Monetizing the Web is not easy, but publishers try.
Creativity, an Ad Age spinoff for ad agency creatives with controlled and paid circulation, two years ago bought AdCritic.com. At the time, the site focused on consumers who wanted to view the latest television commercials online. About 50,000 consumers used the site for free.
Under new management, AdCritic.com became a BTB site. Details like the agency and creative executives behind the commercial were added to the site. Users then were asked to pay $59 annually for access, or $69 for a combo subscription with Creativity. A standalone annual subscription to Creativity costs $59.
Site subscribers rose from 3,900 to 9,000 paid, Scarano said. The subscribers got access to value-added content. Creativity drove subscriber acquisition costs to zero because many opted for combo subscriptions. All new business that comes to the site now points to the combo package.
The circulation staff at Creativity didn't know whether people were buying the combo because access to AdCritic.com was cheaper that way or because they wanted the magazine. Ad sales staff was not too keen on paid subscriptions, either.
There also was the fear that people might stop subscribing to Creativity — a big worry for renewals and rate base management. However, a recent test showed that 65 percent in the test group were renewing their Creativity subscriptions, too. The bonds of reader loyalty to the title were strong.
“It's all about testing and doing a lot of things on the Web site,” Scarano said.
Ad Age and Creativity are among the 35 Crain publications nationwide and overseas. Each title is in various stages of interactive sophistication. Some sell digital editions on their sites. Others have basic sites, with fewer bells and whistles.
The publisher is in the midst of running major data hygiene work. It also is installing a new CRM system that matches its print-subscriber database with the online-users database. This way, consumers get the right offer when they are recognized on a Crain site.
What matters most to Crain circulators like Scarano is whether the publisher's sites and digital editions are driving traffic to the core print products and whether they are helping in research.
As with many publishers, there always is the tussle at Crain: The circulation side wants big subscribe buttons on the magazine's site, and the editorial and advertising sides have other thoughts.
“Publishers want to sell everything as far as possible, editors want to give it for free and circulators are caught in the middle,” Scarano said.
Circulators should prioritize what they want from the title's site, he said. Driving traffic to the print edition is key for many. So it is better for circulators to sit down with their marketing and online colleagues to educate each other.
Scarano's team had an idea to cut e-mail, mail and postage costs for subscriber acquisitions. It was an idea to shuffle budgets within the company instead of going to outside vendors.
“If you give us that big burst on the Web, we'll give you money,” he told his online colleagues. “You give us space on the Web site, and we'll pay you. Hey, it's worth a test.”
Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters