The value of buyer vs. subscriber lists

Patrick Patten, VP of list brokerage, Statlistics
More than 20 years of experience in list brokerage and management

As the old saying goes, “Buyers are buyers and readers are readers,” meaning, Williams-Sonoma is going to do better with a list of buyers who’ve purchased cooking products than read­ers of a cuisine magazine.

Prior behavior is a predictor of future behavior. In addition to capturing an in­come for the prospect, a buyer list typi­cally comes with how much the buyer spent. This is particularly helpful to a high-end marketer that wants to ensure that it is reaching the right target.

For retailers, subscriber lists and pros­pecting lists are a good second source of buyers. Often, prospecting lists are potential customers that have a similar profile to buyers, but others use ex­pired buyers, who have not purchased in the past 12 months, as part of their prospecting lists as well. These auxil­iary names have value particularly if the person has responded or registered for more information.

As a company matures and needs to expand its customer base, these lists have good potential. However, the starting point for any retailer is the buyer list. Ancillary lists are used only after that buyer list has been exhausted.

In general, buyer lists are priced about 20% to 25% higher than the subscriber list because of its perceived higher value. Some multi-product retailers may run into difficulty rent­ing buyers lists without being seen as direct competitors. Meanwhile a niche marketer’s buyer list will be fiercely guarded against others in the same market. This challenge only stands to attest to the value of the buyer list.


Jay Schwedelson, corporate VP, Worldata
Experienced speaker and advocatefor the list industry

Magazine subscriber lists al­low marketers who use the mail as a pri­mary response vehicle to reach proven direct mail responders. By using a sub­scriber file that focuses on building its circulation through direct mail promo­tions, the marketer can enjoy stronger response rates then using one that may not have been generated the same way. In addition, the unique audience that each magazine file reaches allows a mar­keter to target these groups that would otherwise be difficult to reach by simply using some demographic information.

For example, some of the magazine subscriber files that we manage are cat­egory leaders with loyal subscribers who often renew subscriptions through direct mail and other direct response channels. Marketers can focus on age, income and recency when trying to focus in on what would be the best set of names to utilize. The strength of the subscriber file is an understanding of the reader’s interests based on their affiliation with a particular magazine. This under­standing can really help tailor an offer and the creative for a mail piece.

Subscriber files allow marketers to reach a broader audience than most buyer files. In addition, many of the new names coming onto the buyer files are heavily weighted towards online buyers, which can impact negatively if a mar­keter is trying to sell through the mail.

A good marketer will find the best results in testing a broad cross-section of leading publishing files. Savvy mar­keters should always keep in mind the vehicle for response that they’re using and how the names were sourced.


Patten says a buyer is a buyer; Schwedelson says a direct-mail responder is a direct-mail responder. In short, our contenders say, a list is what you make of it. Each expert makes a compelling case for buyer and subscriber lists, but rather than unilaterally choosing one over the other, the stron­gest case is made for looking closest at sourcing and how it relates to your mailing goals — something we can all agree on.

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