When Directness Pays Off
Many magazine publishers have been battling to increase subscriptions to help offset lost ad revenue and declining subscriber bases during the past two years. A major challenge for these publishers has been how to do that while faced with budget cuts, rising postal rates and paper prices. Not surprisingly, direct mail, which has long been most publishers' primary source of subscriber acquisition, dropped significantly in volume in 2009. However, this means of reaching potential readers was not long on the decline.
"Direct mail is still the most important source of subscriptions for most magazine publishers because it's also flexible, and it offers more volume potential than other sources," wrote Elaine Tyson—president of Tyson Associates, which for 28 years has provided circulation management services to more than 200 magazines—in a recent edition of Target Marketing magazine's e-newsletter, Target Marketing Tipline. "But, it's more expensive than ever so some things have changed as a result, particularly over the last year or so."
Tracking such changes is the Target Marketing Group's Who's Mailing What! Archive (WhosMailingWhat.com/trial/tm) and the Email Campaign Archive (EmailCampaignArchive.com), which collects and analyzes thousands of direct mail pieces and e-mail marketing campaigns annually. The "2010 Magazine Publishing Industry Sector Report," produced by DirectMarketingIQ (the Target Marketing Group's research arm; DirectMarketingIQ.com), tapped the extensive direct mail and e-mail archives to share direct marketing statistics and trends that magazine marketers should be aware of before kicking off their upcoming direct marketing campaigns.
Here are 8 key trends you should know:
1. Fewer magazines in the market mean fewer mail pieces.
That's reflected in the Who's Mailing What! Archive, in which total volume of mail dropped considerably from 2008 to 2009—and continued to drop early in 2010 before beginning to recover. Overall, there was a 26-percent decrease in the total number of magazine-related direct mail from '08 to'09, and then a projected (based on the first six months of 2010) decrease of 13 percent in 2010.
2. Consumer and business publications on comeback trail?
Of course, less publishing mail in the mailbox can mean a better opportunity for magazine acquisition efforts to get noticed. Perhaps that opportunity is already being capitalized on in 2010. A close look at marketing mail for both consumer and business publications reveals that while consumer-magazine mail sank by 37 percent from 2008 to 2009, it's currently projected to drop by only 6 percent in 2010. And business magazine mail has barely budged, remaining steady from 2008 to 2009, as well as through the first six months of 2010—and thus dominating more of the magazine-publishing mailstream.
3. Renewal mailings show growth.
Renewal mailings actually grew in total number and as a percentage of overall mail. Despite the reduced mail volume of 2009, there were 17-percent more renewal mailings in '09 compared to '08. As a result, renewal mailing hogged a larger percentage of total mail, at 22 percent in 2009 versus 13 percent in 2008. (It remains above 20 percent in 2010.) Clearly, publishers are investing more into retaining their existing customers.
4. The top 10 magazine mailers.
Below are the magazines that sent the most direct mail over the past year. It's not a coincidence that each magazine is among the leaders in its particular part of the magazine market.
At the top is Sports Illustrated, a big mailer that uses a larger format, windows and cross-promotions with the NFL to boost response. While SI leads the sports magazines in mailings, Self dominates the women's fitness magazine market. The inventive customer relationship management (CRM) program and usage of premiums—in a recent renewal series, Self sent personalized efforts, including "Self Insider" cards that were printed with the recipient's name and a personal account number to access online features—keeps subscribers happy and brings new ones in the door.
Here's the top 10 mailers list:
1. Sports Illustrated
2. The Economist
5. Consumer Reports
5. Smaller is in, oversize is out.
Considering the budget crunch that many direct mailers faced in 2009 and into 2010 (the first six months), you'd expect to see a surge in smaller formats and a decrease in large ones to save on mailing costs. Well, that's exactly what happened.
In fact, small, #10 and medium packages all took up a larger percentage of magazine publishing mail in '09, while large packages decreased in volume. Small packages (those smaller than a #10) increased by 2.5 percent in 2009 and then another 22 percent in 2010, and #10 packages went up by 4.5 percent in 2009 and 17 percent in 2010.
Medium and larger packages? That's where something more dramatic occurred. Medium packages (larger than #10 to 6˝ x 9˝) increased by only 1 percent in 2009, before dropping by 18 percent in 2010. Packages larger than 6˝ x 9˝ shrunk by 41 percent in 2009 and 2010, down to a measly 2.7 percent of efforts. For now, oversize is out.
6. Get on the VDP train.
Variable data printing/personalization (VDP) technology, along with available data, is more advanced than ever. Therefore, it makes more sense for publishers to leverage this data with increasingly personalized efforts in the mail. Personalized publishing mail went up by nearly 17 percent over the past year—and in the first six months of 2010, it jumped up another 51 percent.
7. Biggest months to e-mail were in 2010.
While overall direct mail volume has gone down for magazines, e-mail is going the opposite direction. E-mail marketing among magazines went up in the first six months of 2010 compared to entire-year totals in 2009. March and June this year recorded the most e-mails of any month (since e-mail counts have been recorded by the Email Campaign Archive) by the magazine industry.
8. Tuesdays and Thursdays are "hot."
Most expert e-mail marketers agree that Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days to e-mail, regardless of industry sector. Magazine e-mail marketers apparently are following that advice, with Tuesday showing higher e-mail volume than any other day of the week (8,119 e-mails since January 2009) and Thursday close on its heels with 7,809 e-mails.
Wednesday is a close third, with just 200 fewer e-mails than Thursday. Otherwise, a 31 percent drop-off is seen on Friday, before the bottom predictably drops out on weekends (which lags 83 percent behind the week's average). PE
Ethan Boldt is chief content officer of DirectMarketingIQ.com and oversees the creation of premium products, including special reports (on such topics as e-mail, direct mail and social media), industry sector reports (such as the first-ever report on the magazine publishing industry), how-to guides (such as e-mail creative) and company profiles.