Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Wait! Don't Kill That Magazine: 4 Ways To Rescue A Struggling Publication

As if plummeting ad revenue and rising paper prices weren’t bad enough, now the threat of skyrocketing postal rates has successful publishers like ESPN and Meredith talking about shutting down magazines.

But euthanizing money-losing titles isn’t always the best answer.

Just because your accounting system says the magazine is unprofitable doesn’t mean you’ll be better off ceasing publication. (I explain that more in a new article for  Publishing Executive, "Is It Time to Put Your Magazine Out of Its Misery?".)

A better option may be radical surgery – dramatically scaling back your magazine’s footprint to make it more sustainable for the long haul. Here are four examples:

Reduce Frequency
Turning two 80-page issues into one 160-page double issue can cut your production and distribution costs by one-third. For example, well over half the postage for most titles is related to the number of copies mailed, not the weight of those copies.

You can’t get that kind of savings from the usual, less radical tweaks. And, unlike trimming page counts or shifting to cheaper paper, doubling up actually yields a better product.

A double issue doesn’t have to be double-sized. Typical practice is to increase the page count by about 50% -- enough to give the readers noticeably more than they would get in a normal issue.

Reducing frequency enables you to continue publishing the issues that attract the most advertising while euthanizing the dogs of summer – those issues with poor ad sales.

A bonus: Double issues really do count as two issues. A recent promotion for TV Guide Magazine offered a special deal for a “1 year (52 weeks)” subscription, with fine print stating “will be delivered in the form of 26 double issues”.

Pare Your Subscription List
Letting people subscribe for less than the cost of printing and mailing their copies might have made sense when ad dollars were rolling in. But with that subsidy gone, sustainable publishing now means getting readers to pick up more of the tab.

Consumer magazines typically have a wide array of subscription price points – from airline-rewards miles to long-time customers who pay list price. (Are we the only industry that charges our best customers the highest prices?)

You can save money by eliminating negative-remit subscriptions and unprofitable promotions. Replace them with free copies distributed to such “public places” as hair salons, hotel lobbies, and doctors’ waiting rooms. Choose locations likely to be of interest to your advertisers or to have prospective subscribers. (Money-saving hint: Select regions in which your postage is most efficient.)

You can generate even larger savings if you’re willing to let your circulation shrink. That frees you, for example, to drop those 50-cents-per-copy subscription promotions, as well as subscription sources with poor renewal rates. And to stop offering renewals that don’t at least cover the cost of printing and mailing.

Factor in the impact on ad revenue; fewer subscribers means lower rates per page. But circulation reductions aren’t as big a deal as they used to be with advertisers, who now look to print media for highly engaged audiences, not masses of eyeballs.

Take a critical look at newsstand 
Magazine retailers and wholesalers focus on maximizing sales, not publishers’ profits. That means distributing lots of copies that don’t sell, which is OK for the channel partners but not so great for publishers that bear the printing and paper costs.

You’d think wholesalers would stop distributing your title to convenience stores that sell only 10% of the copies, but it never seems to work that way. Be willing to ban your magazine from retail chains with the worst sales.

Look especially at whether in-store promotions are paying off. And don't buy what you can't monitor: Non-compliance has become epidemic. (Hint: If you have copies in airport stores, there’s a good chance you're losing money on them because of "pay to play" promotional fees.)

Get more love for your digital edition 
Rising paper and postal prices don’t, of course, affect the costs of digital editions. Unfortunately, people haven’t exactly been beating down the doors to read our e-magazines.

But what if we gave them more reasons to take a look, whether via price discounts or bonus content? If you sell bookazines, give all of your subscribers access to a free digital edition. Or create a digital compilation of your best stories from the past year or on a specific topic.

Leveraging our digital editions more in promotions, such as providing free access to an issue, can gradually increase the share of digital-only subscribers. And it’s an inexpensive way of getting the email addresses of prospective subscribers.

The goal is not to get rid of print altogether but rather to replace our least profitable print copies with digital distribution.

Other Dead Tree Edition articles about magazine publishing include: