A blog for marketers of magazines, newspapers and newsletters who are determined to find, keep and make money from subscribers


NOW THAT THE INTERNET, the economy, and too many panicky pop-marketing decisions have eviscerated subscription sales, what can you do to stop circulation losses, rebuild audience, and respond to the new realities in direct response advertising?

Here are some thoughts and ideas…



The 80/20 rule applies to magazines and newspapers too. Most have a core audience that considers a subscription indispensable. And these dedicated readers are ready, willing and able to pay the price for high-value content.

Successful publishers know how to maximize sales by creating highly-targeted editorial products that drill into these opportunities quickly, simply and efficiently. Here’s an example of how The Chronicle of Philanthropy did exactly that — generating new revenue from core subscribers using existing content and online marketing. 

View the case history »



Think National Geographic. A subscription delivers more than a passive sit-back-and-read magazine. It comes with invitations to join guided expeditions and travel adventures across the map. Plus opportunities to shop the world — Irish wool sweaters, handcrafted Himalayan jewelry, Tunisian fish platters — in ways that celebrate cultures. 

These kind of immersive experiences and distinctive products can merchandise your mission and brand your magazine as not only a must-read, but also a must-have and must-do. 

It can be as simple as “Finds of The Week” — books and gifts curated by the editors of that magazine. Or “Split Decision” and “Intelligent Tees” — mind games and gear that make Mental Floss more than a trivial pursuit for its thousands of fans.

The idea is to capture the spirit of your magazine in tangible and authentic ways that passionate readers will pay a premium to experience and own. And because these subscribers are buying into the central idea of your magazine, they are far more loyal when it comes time to renew — making the gains both immediate and enduring.

See how The Week and Mental Floss did it »



“If you want to dramatically increase your response, dramatically improve your offer.”  Famously said by Axel Andersson, those words gave rise to a sea of free magazines offers.

But that was back when the idea of a free magazine was actually a dramatic, attention-getting offer. Before magazines had to add a “free gift” just to get you to send for the free issue. And another “free gift” to get you to actually pay the bill instead of canceling the order. (Is it any wonder insiders call this sales technique a “soft offer?")

And of course all of that was well before the internet. Before “information wants to be free” caused magazines to lose their collective marketing minds and give away the whole of their content online. Only to late-make pay walls that are more porous than profitable.

So now what? 

How can you dramatically improve your offer after we’ve trained generations of readers (and advertisers) to think a free issue of your magazine is essentially worthless? Especially knowing if you surrender your free offers you’ll lose to competitors who won’t.

Change the dynamics.

After all, people know “free” offers are not really free. And they know how to game your marketing. So don’t beg readers to send no money now and hope they’ll like your freebies enough to pay when you bill them later.

Do what The Week did. Send your magazine to top prospects announcing you’ve added them to your VIP comp list. Then invite them to stay for a few months free, but only if they take a moment to confirm their place. And reinforce their status by offering your inside price for a paid subscription after they enjoy an extended trial. 

Suddenly “free” isn’t code for “tricky and deceptive.”
Instead it means “exclusive and desirable.”

The Week wrapped that idea around their issues, sent them to prime prospects, and soundly beat their control by taking control. 

Why does it work so well?

  • Readers feel respected and recognized, not pitched and patronized.
  • Trial issues in the hands of good prospects ends the wait for delivery.
  • On-issue wraps eliminate the cost of an entire direct mail campaign.
  • Advertisers appreciate the “bonus” circulation.
  • Fusing product and promotion makes branding powerful and persuasive.
  • Flipping the script from “free if you cancel” to “free when you confirm” builds better subscribers — who buy more, pay better, and stay longer.

Step-by-step: How The Week makes “free” pay »


How can you turn unique visitors into new subscribers? Start by recognizing that few land on your website looking for a sales pitch.

So don’t anger first-timers with pop-ups that push and promote as soon as they arrive. And don’t beg visitors to stay and buy the moment they hover to mouse away.

Instead, give them a little guidance. Build one-page guides to your title that open when vistors click on the “About” link in your core navigation.

Include an attractive trial offer and promote it at the top of your web page as part of your site’s core navigation. 

A simple guide to the benefits of your publication — that leads to an immediate trial — is a fundamental tool for building circulation directly from your website. And the visitors it attracts are fundamental to subscription marketing success.

Two examples to emulate »


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