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Winning magazine subscription marketing strategies from Bauer, Immediate and Readly

Press Gazette spoke to representatives at major publishers Bauer and Immediate, along with popular magazine app Readly about their winning magazine subscription marketing strategies.

They shared their insight as the latest UK magazine industry ABC figures confirm digital subscription models are in rude health with big hitters boasting impressive figures.

Overall digital edition sales at magazine publications grew by 20%, from 1,783,146 in 2020 to 2,138,471 in 2021.

Sam Gallimore, chief customer officer, Bauer Media UK Publishing: Personalised product offers

“Creating more rounded digital propositions for mobile users and putting magazine content behind a paywall can help with expanding audience reach and targeting different groups of consumers. At Bauer Media, we have a massively successful and growing subscription business and many of our titles have already pivoted to a direct and recurring revenue model.

“One approach is to segment casual readers and committed audiences. This allows us to build a deeper understanding of how they are consuming their content, and based on this behaviour, we can tailor product offerings and pricing. For example, we can create collections of articles which we use to introduce casual or new readers to the brand without the ongoing commitment. If we see they are enjoying and engaging with this, we can then target them with more content, and the plan in the long term is to upsell them to a membership.

“In the past, we focused on subscriptions being incentivised with a discount offer but we’ve found that offering a better value exchange for customers instead through a more premium product offering is more beneficial for both parties. Moving away from a transactional journey to delivering the whole experience package for customers is key – subscribers are our brand’s biggest superfans, and publishers should aim to offer them the best experience possible. We believe this approach is possible across all brands and genres, but works best for those where there is a significant level of passion and commitment from audiences – for example across our automotive or specialist hobby magazines.”

Jess Burney, subscriptions managing director, Immediate Media: Make short-term sacrifices

“Some businesses are simply perfect for subscriptions. You have a clearly defined customer base, your customer has a need or desire for your product on a regular basis, and you can cut out the middlemen and cost-effectively directly deliver your product. If you fit the above criteria, and this applies to both physical and digital products, investing in a subscription model will dramatically increase your long-term profitability. It will also hugely increase your cash flow, the predictability of your revenues and the value of your company. If your customer base is very broad, your product has irregular purchase, and/or you’re looking for short-term gains, the subscription model is likely to be less suitable and you will find it much harder to be successful.

“To be successful, you will need to be willing to make some short-term sacrifices. Subscription models payback over time and require upfront investment in marketing. You may need to invest on a 12, 24 or 36+ month basis to maximise the size of your business and invest in performance-driven marketing, customer experience, technology and fulfilment. You will need a talented in-house team or skilled outsource partners; perhaps a mixture of both.

“Publishers with special interest content, direct access to interested communities and seamless digital paywalls are seeing success. Many other media platforms are successful here too – most notably the huge expansion in TV streaming. Companies who are passionate about data and adopt a test and learn culture are setting the bar for best practice.”

Chris Crouchman, head of content, Readly: Niche magazines suit a subscription model

“If you go down the subscription route, it’s important to ensure your model is multi-channel. Collaborate with different partners to trial and see what drives the most engagement for your title and what drives lifetime value, then look at what works best for your audience and adjust. Don’t be afraid to try out new routes and use the vast amounts of data available to suit your model accordingly.

“We work with 1,200 publishers worldwide, all looking to leverage their digital assets, diversify their revenue streams and increase their digital circulation. In a data-driven world, use it to be the most informed you can and let it drive your strategy and approach. With Readly Insight, we can see where people are actually coming in to read a magazine, what articles they’re reading, where they are dropping off, etc. We share huge amounts of data on the habits of our subscribers with publishers to help them grow readership. We of course do not share any GDPR-sensitive data.

“Niche magazines with specialist interests seem to have a highly loyal audience and therefore suit the subscription model (for example: Craft, trains, cars, photography and food). We see that publishers can drive a lot of loyalty around an interest. However, news, celebrity and entertainment and gossip all suit subscription models [as well] and are continually in our top read categories with loyal readers who go back every day.”