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Magazines rely on email for app services

Multititle publisher Bonnier Corp. is using email marketing to build relationships with customers who are subscribing to its new iPad magazine. Bonnier publishes titles such as Popular Science and Popular Photography. Subscribers who opt in to email messages while buying the digital magazine will receive an email survey with questions about themselves, and what they like and dislike about the iPad edition. ?

“The idea is to evolve the product to meet the customer’s needs,” says Gregg Hano, VP group publisher of the Bonnier Technology Group at Bonnier.?

A similar evolution in email marketing for magazines began with Apple, maker of the iPad. In February, Apple rolled out an in-app magazine subscription service for iPad versions of magazines. Previously, magazines were restricted to selling single issues on the popular tablet. As part of the subscription process in iTunes, Apple invites subscribers to opt in to receiving email marketing messages from the publisher. ?

To help drive opt-ins, Hano says Popular Science plans to test an offer that gives subscribers who opt in to the email program at the point of subscription an additional two issues. As of May, the opt-in rate for Popular Science was 50%, while Popular Photography‘s opt-in rate was 54%. ?

Getting subscribers to opt-in aids magazines’ customer retention strategies. Hano notes that email should also help drive renewals next year. “We are going to have a large pool of subscribers that will want to renew in February 2012,” he says. “We’ll be looking at building different levels and presenting different offers for readers to choose from.” ?

Potential offers could include a joint digital and print subscription for a slightly higher price, the ability to opt in to seminars hosted by the publications’ executive editors, and exclusive email newsletters that are edited specifically for subscribers. ?

Bonnier works with email marketing services firm Silverpop. Loren McDonald, VP of industry relations at the email service provider, says that consumers who read magazines on iPads are obviously mobile users, but he points out that email can still grab their attention. ?

“They may have a hundred apps downloaded and forget about what they have because the apps are not in their face like an email that is in your inbox every day or a magazine in your mailbox,” he says.?

McDonald recommends that digital publishers use email to drive subscribers to engage with the app on an ongoing basis. “Even if a customer has already paid for a subscription, if they are not using it on a regular basis, they are not going to renew,” he says.?

Jeanniey Mullen, CMO of Zinio, a digital magazine service, and the founder and executive director of the Email Experience Council, says tablets open up a world of opportunities and concerns for email marketers. “Email marketers should be optimizing for the mobile experience and testing things like location-based targeting,” she says. ?

However, Mullen advises marketers to be cautious, warning that transactional emails are starting to look like spam to tablet users. ?Zinio is evolving its email messaging to conform to the app format.

“We are looking at how we can leverage the reading library as a notification center rather than relying on transactional emails. We are looking at marketing emails in a new way,” says Mullen. “It is no longer about special offers. Instead we are sending emails about how to use our apps to get more use out of them.” ?

Given that tablet magazines are still a relatively new item, it is an open field for marketers to learn. ?

“Because the tablets are so new, the key right now is to understand what the consumers like, what they will respond to, and to work to evolve the marketing to be as successful as possible,” says Hano.

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