The London Review of Books launched on 25 October 1979, so will be celebrating its fortieth birthday tomorrow.
Excitingly, the magazine seems to be thriving. Not for them the sometimes dispiriting task of managing long term decline. The LRB circulation is actually growing, and not by fractions of percentage points, but by tens of percentage points.
Its 2018 ABC of 75,725 was 56% higher than its 2008 figure of 48,265, and neither of those two figures were outliers. The long term trend for the magazine is upwards: every ABC since 2000 (and possibly before, but the ABC site only shows that far back) has shown an increase.
It’s done this not by flooding the market with freebies, but by actually selling more copies. Its actively purchased percentage has gone up, not down (2008: 87%; 2018: 91%).
The LRB’s circulation growth is real, not the result of some reporting sleight of hand.
What is the secret of their success? The good news is that it’s not hugely complicated:
- It’s a great product. Simple.
- You can’t get their content elsewhere for free. Yes, there is a registration barrier on their website which will allow you a few free articles per month, but, essentially, if you want to read it, you’ve got to pay for it.
- They have a superb marketing operation based on data, testing, learning and continuous fine tuning. Their emphasis is on steady sustainable growth. (LRB’s Reneé Doegar wrote an excellent article about testing for our March/April issue and is also being interviewed by Meg Carter in our forthcoming Nov/Dec issue.)
It’s all too easy to focus on the challenges the industry faces, but there are lots of uplifting good news stories too.