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Print subs: 5 minutes with… Andrew Parkinson

Well-targeted sampling, with appropriate messaging, is one proven technique for acquiring new subscribers. We grab five minutes with NewsTeam Group’s Andrew Parkinson to talk about this and the overall outlook for subscriptions.

By Andrew Parkinson

Print subs: 5 minutes with… Andrew Parkinson

Q: What are the key dos and don'ts for publishers to consider when running a sampling campaign?

A: Sampling your product is a powerful way to get your content into the hands of new potential readers, but do consider who you want to target. Are you targeting lapsed customers to try and entice them back again? Or is your strategy to attract completely new customers in to try your brand. If the latter, consider carefully how you select the target audience. You need to warm them you to your brand, the offer should be as strong as the publisher can afford to give. A number of issues for free or for a nominal £1 are the best way to get a customer to sign-up before moving to a more sustainable price-point.

Promotional material should be clear and concise, explaining why the reader has received the sample and what are the benefits to them. The offer should also be clear, but don’t be afraid to try different offers, or even just different wording until you find the one that works best for your customers.

Q: How can publishers improve the subscription and onboarding experience for new subscribers?

A: Make the method to sign-up for the offer as simple as possible. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer, run through the process and experience it yourself. Minimise the clicks required to get to the sign-up page. Data is important to understanding your subscriber base, but don’t ask for information you won’t use or don’t require. Is your subscription offer simple for the user to understand? I would definitely advocate the use of autocomplete forms where possible to reduce keying errors in address data.

As a consumer, a welcome message is important; it makes you feel valued by the publisher, and importantly advises you of the start date and when you should expect to receive your first issues.

Q: When it comes to subscription renewals, what are the key considerations?

A: Retention is absolutely key for all publishing strategies, any publisher who has as many subscribers in twelve months’ time as they do now is doing something right. I would encourage publishers who rely on a regular renewal process to move towards continuous payment methods. Aside from gift subscriptions, I can’t understand why a publisher would offer consumers the choice of annual renewals.

Any communication with your customer gives the consumer the opportunity to evaluate whether to continue with their subscription or not. Therefore, don’t give the consumer the opportunity to change their mind, or simply to forget to renew their subscription.

Q: What are the opportunities and threats for subscription services in the next twelve months?

A: There remain clear opportunities to grow subscriber bases through direct marketing and sampling, and as normal life returns with in-person events and activities, publishers will get access to consumers they haven’t enjoyed over the past eighteen months. To grow audiences, it is important to look outside traditional mediums. Many publishers rely on advertising to sustain their business model but allocate little or no resource to advertising their own products, so be creative in when and where you promote your products.

Royal Mail are understandably shifting their focus to prioritising parcel deliveries over letter deliveries, petitioning the regulator to allow them to make changes to their service including dropping letter deliveries on Saturday. Although this is currently only a proposal, it may be an unwelcomed proposition for publishers whose business model is based on subscribers receiving their product towards the end of the week for a weekend read before it is available in retail.

Q: What is the future of retail and subscription sales?

A: There are two main threats to the retail network. A variety of factors are creating a shortage of labour to fulfil home delivery copies, and ever-increasing carriage charges from wholesale reduce the profitability in the sector. These two factors combined are leading to increasing numbers of retailers seeing news and mags as less profitable than in the past whilst being viewed as an increasing burden on their time. As traditional casual sales points continue to decline, publishers should be seeking out new non-traditional outlets. Sub-retailing, whilst not currently commonplace, will become increasingly important to publishers, particularly regional news publishers who wish to maintain presence in their core areas.

Fewer casual sales points will serve to increase the importance of subscriber copies both in terms of the make-up of publishers’ sales, as well as knowing who your readers are, their interests, habits and behaviours in order to create content that better caters for their needs.

Sadly, price increases are inevitable, I’d encourage publishers (particularly of daily and weekly platforms) not to be afraid to charge customers a fair and reasonable amount for the delivery element of their subscription service, on top of the cost of the product. Historically, publishers, for understandable reasons, have tended to blend the two costs together. In recent years, the uplift in online shopping has prompted the consumer to view the product and delivery as separate entities, with a cost associated to both.

Q: How has consumer behaviour changed, and how is it likely to change in the future?

A: The pandemic has driven several changes to consumer behaviour. Home working changed the location of casual purchases, shopping locally in the community has risen. Publishers that had good on-boarding platforms and initiatives saw their subs base grow during 2020, signalling a shift away from retail sales into subscriptions. Although workers are being encouraged back into the office, WFH will remain an aspect for many, even if only 2/3 days per week. 2022 will see the consumer finding their free time diminishes, so publishers will need proactive retention strategies and activities that are carefully considered and costed to ensure the subscriber base remains profitable.

Q: What's in the pipeline at NewsTeam Group?

A: We are optimistic for the future; there is still strong demand for printed publications in the UK market and NTG will continue to offer publishers an efficient and reliable route to market for their distribution needs.

The board at NewsTeam takes the impact of our actions today on future generations very seriously. Accordingly, NewsTeam have placed orders for 53 fully electric vans. We realise that this is just a first step, and many more need to be taken to minimise our impact on the planet. NewsTeam will be working with several publishers at COP26 to make publications available to delegates.

About us

NewsTeam Group is a UK-wide newspaper and magazine delivery company, providing professional early morning delivery to over 80,000 addresses across the UK. NTG operates a delivery network consisting of strategically placed distribution and packing hubs.

Working in direct partnership with publishers has allowed us to reduce complicated structures and dependencies, as well as finding innovative solutions for publishers within our audience.

We offer sampling as a means to introduce magazine brands to new print subscribers from our existing network, and then direct sales opportunity and fulfilment services to support that acquisition moving forwards.