No Pallets Required

With the bulk of my career spent in publishing, I always have something to say about the transformation of the printed word and the rise of the Internet.

Recently, I joined a panel discussion at the Folio Show in New York. The topic, “Managing Rising Postal Rates,” was relevant to my background and focus. The session provided magazine publishers and direct marketers with tips on how to deal with the endless rising costs of all kinds, not just bulk rates.

The session was kicked off with a very detailed overview of the coming postal increases and ways small publishers could work to deal with these increases. There were charts, graphs, and spreadsheets with all types of cost figures to be calculated. It seemed the audience was losing attention. Part two consisted of information on the nuances of palletization and sacking techniques to maximize space and thereby reduce the postal increases’ overall effect. I sat silently as proper stacking techniques to organize printed material for maximum cost efficiency were explained.

Finally, the moderator asked for my thoughts on postal increases. I launched into a diatribe about the incredible transformation and shift in human communication. Nearly 10 years ago, the Internet’s rise heralded a new chapter in evolution of human interaction, though it seems many in publishing have yet to open the book.

In the early days of the Internet, I spoke to a group of circulation directors at a Magazine Publishers of America (then the Magazine Publishers’ Association) event about the urgent need to evolve subscription and renewal strategies to embrace the Internet, and email specifically, as a channel. I was nearly escorted off the stage for suggesting print publications make such a move. Some scoffed. “We tried the Internet and it didn’t work.”

I’m not saying traditional marketing techniques are going away, but publishers must better manage business and cost issues using consumer preferences and market changes. Appropriately managing these issues is the only way to address customer needs and the bottom line in an evolving industry.

Some publishers were courageous enough to commit resources to building their own Web portals and marketing strategies. Those sites housed a selection of editorial content. In the rare case readers gravitated to the Internet, they could find a sampling of the published content. There were battles between print and online editors over content and reader ownership. It wasn’t long before online reader communities caught print ad sales teams’ attention. In a quest to find ways to supplement the perceived eroding value of print advertising, sales threw Internet impressions into the mix as a value add; purchase a schedule of print and get a couple of million impressions for free.

The past decade’s mistakes are returning. Publishers face declining newsstand and advertising sales, lower renewal rates, more costly print production, and now a double whammy: the U.S. Postal Service is hitting the industry with a significant increase in postal rates not only this year, but for the foreseeable future.

Some believe the answer lies in better palletization and stacking techniques.

Today’s consumer reality demands the Internet, specifically email, be embraced as the primary communications channel and renewal resource. A recent Forrester Research study indicates consumers spend upwards of 34 percent of their media consumption time online. Shifting consumer behavior, combined with the real-time nature, advanced testing capabilities, and cost efficiency of email communications, is too powerful to ignore.

E-mail is the new publishing platform. The Internet isn’t only the newsstand but also the distribution network. It’s about time everyone on the print side of the house woke up to this and integrated on- and offline efforts to optimize readership and manage costs. Those who don’t learn from the past, and begin aggressively building products and relationships with online subscribers, will die. It’s that critical. But it’s not too late. What’s at stake are your brand and your ability to be relevant to a new class of subscribers.

My advice:

  • Build your email subscriber base. Do whatever you can to solicit email addresses from print subscribers. Make sure you have content on your Web site and a pointer directs online readers to a place where they can register their email address.

  • Use on- and offline surveys to gauge reader interest in editorial content. You’d be surprised how many readers are willing to tell you exactly what they want.
  • Use the data. All this great information is useless unless you leverage the data to help build new marketable products that serve readers’ evolving needs. Conduct online research to create new online magazines.
  • Build more content than you think you need. The cost of developing online magazines is far less than in print. Experiment with all types of editorial content, newsletters, alerts, special issues, and so forth. Watching the interaction of online readers with content provides great insight into what will work long term.
  • Develop multiple reader segments. The ability to perform advanced segmentation on email lists and the implementation of automated solutions empowers publishers to drive top- and bottom-line growth. Innovative email strategies include:
    • Dynamic email content assembly to optimize performance and inventory/ad opportunities for advertisers

    • Subscription management and triggered renewals to maintain and grow base/key audience segments
    • Breaking news alerts to drive loyalty and brand while increasing visits and page views

  • Retrain your sales force. You’re now involved in special-interest publishing, an entirely different value proposition. It’s likely subscriber communities in this new model will be smaller, more focused, and more targeted. Your sales team has been selling “millions of impressions.” They must be trained to sell the value of the relationship between targeted, relevant editorial and its audience. It’s the difference between reach and effective reach.

  • Sell print subscriptions online. Print publications aren’t going the way of the dinosaur, so it’s important to understand email and the Web’s inherent power as a means to sell print subscriptions. Today’s smartest marketers embrace email’s power and efficiency to drive new subscriptions and optimize renewal efforts. Leading publishers are beginning to understand the cost efficiencies and effectiveness of implementing fully automated subscription renewal programs that utilize time-triggered email offers and eliminate the need for expensive direct mail drops.

Aren’t you convinced you should change — radically?

Until next time,

Al D.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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