Editorial: Obsessive-Compulsive Renewal Disorder

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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.

3 thoughts on “Editorial: Obsessive-Compulsive Renewal Disorder

  • March 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm
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    When is a “double cheeseburger” really TWO cheeseburgers and twice the price as one? When Newsweek says it is. That’s because Newsweek is now saying that if they call a weekly issue a “double-issue” it will actually count as two. HUH? The print industry is indeed having troubles, and those of us committed to reading newsmagazines are as pained as anyone else. But the times are no excuse for cheating loyal readers by changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game and failing to tell the players.. Newsweek put out 10-12 “double issues” last year. We got no warning, yet because of its many years as an industry leader, we subscribers had no reason to think the company would refuse to extend annual subscriptions to make up the difference. HA! ONLY if we call and ask are we told that a 52 issue-subscription will not be 52 actual weekly issues, but only 40 (or 35, or however many the company feels like doing. Go ahead. Try to make the case that this is NOT fraudulent bait-and-switch. The magazine has changed the rules of the game at whim, and is redefining the term “double issue” . When you fail to specify this up front, you are cheating people because the public thinks a double issue is an issue with twice the normal content—-perhaps, say, to celebrate a big magazine anniversary or a huge advertising campaign. The practice might indeed not be confined to Newsweek, but someone needs to create a better term so that the readers understand, because like it or not, the public thinks it is still ONE ISSUE the same way that a double cheeseburger is a burger with two patties covered with cheese—not two cheeseburgers. The failure to make it up to current subscribers and failing to make this clear to subscribers in all marketing and promotional information, as well as in information that subscription services must relay to consumers, is nothing short of fraud. Last year, subscribers were cheated out of 2 1/2 months’ worth of magazines they paid for in good faith. And nobody was told. Who else is doing this?
    Newsweek’s “double issue” that cheats subscribers”

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  • August 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm
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    I could not agree more with Mr. Fleming. In the past 6 months I have contacted Newsweek twice asking about their Double Issue. I expressed my frustration with getting Double Issues rather than the 52 weekly issues I had received in the past. I made it clear that their marketing for yearly subscriptions indicate 52 WEEKLY issues, not some weekly and some bi-weekly. Unfortunately they never chose to respond to me. It is with both joy and sorrow that I have now decided to cancel (after 22 years) my subscription and switch to TIME!

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  • October 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm
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    While I don’t disagree with the two comments above, dated March 30, 2012, and August 13, 2012, it doesn’t appear that there is a stampede toward the exits; however, I too am dismayed at the double issue conundrum. I understand your cost justification for double issues. I fully accept them. I would EMBRACE THEM IF only I could find them. My complaint is not the elimination of issues, but the “when”; in other words, when I go to my mailbox fully expecting my WEEKLY Newsweek and it is not there; however, eing a patient man (in my own mind), I wait until Thursday (since that is what I have been told in years gone by – “no redelivery until Thursday” when the news has become history) and then I call Newsweek’s phone number (I have the number in my list of contacts – good thing because it is very difficult to find anywhere else – not in the magazine and difficult online – BTW the number is (800) 631-1040) and am told there is no delivery this week because of the double issue last week. I know a pretty long “run-on sentence.” Stated simply, I would like to see some sort of correspondence letting subscribers know WHEN there will be double issues – even printing it in the print version of the magazine would be at least some attempt to acknowledge you will be printing double issues this year. It wouldn’t even be bad to relate your justification for doing so. And, yes, I know it says “Double Issue” right under the Big N, but I have normally discarded or shared that issue shortly after I hungrily read the news and I forgot to check for “double issue” on the cover. This is not an easy habit to acquire after more 20 years trusting there will be an issue in my mailbox next week. I have seen lists for your scheduled double issues on several websites, but none is accurate. The most recent one I saw was listed is the “2012 International Edit Calendar, Effective August 8, 2012”; however, it does not list some of the recent double issues, e.g., October 1 & 8, 2012. Do those in foreign lands not have to deal with as many double issues as we do? The ;ink is http://mediakit.newsweekdailybeast.com/int_calendar.html I have called on at least 2 occasions to try to get a definitive list of the dates for the double issues and your representatives at the number listed above even give incorrect dates. Is this a mystery for Newsweek also? Are the double issues a whim of someone up the food chain? Maybe it’s the CFO (I like that because I once was one – now retired) sends an edict from on high (again, I like that) saying “Double Issue this week…short of funds.” Please, just publish an accurate date for your double issues for the rest of this year and 2013. Please.

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