By: Jeff Fleming
If you think circulation is a cushy job, you’re probably right, but not for the reasons you think. In today’s world, the only thing cushy about circulation is the 2 inches of padding lining the office walls.
Asking subscribers to renew print subscriptions has never been easy, but when you add digital editions, apps, mobile, and paywalls to the equation (not to mention some paid, some free, some bundled, and all at varying price points), the chances of your circulation manager committing harakiri before the next audit are almost guaranteed.
Earlier this month, I received a print renewal notice for a local daily metro and after reading it, I thought about contacting a rocket scientist to interpret it. The complexity was confusing, unnecessary, and frustrating to the point of no return — and this was a “print only” renewal. One has to wonder if subscription chaos attributed to digital products is distracting the newspaper from following the basic and fundamental framework for successful renewal efforts — list the benefits and keep it simple.
The renewal in question offered NO benefits, included account “details” with NO explanation, listed four timelines with NO discount for choosing the longest subscription period, and stated that there will be five transportation cost increases in 2012. All this and a special note reading, “Home delivery rates have increased due to the rising cost of operations and newsprint” with NO indication of how much. I glanced to the bottom of the letter, expecting the signature to read: “Sincerely, Debbie Downer.”
With circulation numbers dwindling, newspapers now more than ever should be pouring their best creative juices and marketing savvy into their subscription efforts. The consumer experience should be friendly and offer simple choices including print and digital. Sorting out multiple offers and prices is challenging, but not impossible.
Customers want to feel special, they want to know the money they are spending is appreciated and that they will be rewarded with insightful information that is unique and not available for free across the Internet.
But there is still a big elephant in the room of the metro in question, and he’s sitting carelessly on the circulation director’s shoulder. Most of the content they are requesting payment for is available 24/7 as a free app in the iTunes store and Android Market.
The Newspaper Association of America offers several subscriber acquisition and retention reports, including “Marketing Home Delivery: The Subscriber Lifecycle and Model Retention Process” and “Selling Subscriptions with a New Sense of Urgency.” There isn’t enough space on Wikipedia for all of the circulation tips, strategies, and case studies available. But reading and studying and attending conferences does absolutely nothing unless there is a plan of action and implementation.
As I write this, an email from the “Customer Intelligence Manager” at the metro paper that sent the depressing renewal letter just appeared in my inbox. They are asking me to complete a brief survey to “see how we are doing.” Their timing couldn’t be better.