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Publishers Share Renewal Strategies

NEW YORK — A panel of publishing professionals gave insights into their subscription renewal programs at yesterday's Fulfillment Management Association seminar, “Maintaining Renewal Rates in a Changing Economy,” at the Grand Hyatt.

“Maintaining renewals is harder than ever,” panel moderator and publishing consultant Marlene Tuchman said. She asked panelists what they were doing to keep renewal rates up.

The panelists said their companies were using a mix of direct marketing, telemarketing and e-mail to get subscribers to renew. Direct mail was the most frequent and effective but other methods work, too, they said.

Though e-mailing subscribers is cheap, e-mail renewal efforts have had low response rates, said panelist Alec Casey, executive marketing director at Sports Illustrated. But e-mail renewal efforts boost response for direct mail renewal campaigns that follow them, he said.

Price testing was another factor panelists mentioned. They said that raising prices for renewals was not necessarily a bad thing.

Nickelodeon raised its prices on new business and renewals for its Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. magazines with success, said panelist Edelyn Sellito, Nickelodeon's renewal and new business manager. A key to renewing at higher prices is to focus on the savings as compared with newsstand prices, she said.

Of course, some subscribers call customer service to ask why the renewal price was higher than a new subscription offer they saw elsewhere. In that case, panelists agreed that they renew them at the lower rate.

For the tone of renewal offers, one publishing executive said there were three stages of urgency.

“There's the 'great deal,' 'danger' and 'what happened?'” said Sean O'Connell, vice president of consumer marketing at Disney Publishing.

The “great deal” offer is more of an early renewal incentive, “danger” lets subscribers know that their subscription has almost run out and “what happened?” comes after the subscription expired.

Panelists said they actively pursue renewals on expired subscriptions with decent success.

A newer concept is continuous service, where the subscriber authorizes automatic renewal. Of the panelists, only Casey said his firm used it. He admitted that many consumers are unsure of how it works and are skeptical of the concept at this point. He also advocated giving subscribers an easy way to cancel a continuous service subscription

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