Magazine Subscription Marketing Ideas for Selling More Print & Digital

Magazine subscription marketing varies from print to digital, but the right offers paired with the perfect pricing bundles could be a game-changer for your niche publication


We talk a lot about digital magazine subscription marketing around here, and unwittingly neglect your very important print publications. Once you’ve established your subscription price strategy, the next problem to solve is the offer you make in your magazine subscription marketing campaigns.

Do you give subscribers something for free as an enticement to subscribe? Do you give them a trial subscription?

This decision has actually gotten easier in the Internet era. Mequoda’s Founder, Don Nicholas, invented what he calls the Offer Continuum, and in ancient times, that included 12 types of offers. Today, because we don’t do things such as “cash only” or sweepstakes offers, we’ve boiled it down to six.

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01-magazine-subscription-marketing-ideas-for-selling-more-print-and-digitalThrough literally decades of testing, we’ve also determined the success rate of each type of offer, which we call the response index. The most successful offer is indexed at 100, and less successful offer types will only get a certain percentage of that.

  1. Soft, premium, bill me later – rated 100
  2. Hard, premium, bill me later –  rated 70
  3. Soft, premium, credit card –  rated 50
  4. Hard, premium, credit card – rated 35
  5. Soft, no premium, credit card – rated 35
  6. Hard, no premium, credit card – rated 25

Not surprisingly, the offer that gets the best response is a soft offer, which means you give them a free issue or more to try you out. You send it before they pay, and you bill them to see if they’ll take you up on a full subscription.

The least successful offer is a hard offer, in which they pay with their credit card up front, and get nothing else — no trial, no premium. This offer delivers only 25% response compared to the #1 offer, and before the Internet and email, this could still be a good strategy because it saved publishers a ton of money in mailing bills and conversion series efforts. Now, of course, that advantage has disappeared, so we don’t see much of this around anymore.

In between is the soft offer with a premium included, but the subscriber gives you a credit card number and has to contact you to cancel, instead of being billed.

In the digital realm, this list is similar to paywalls, where the softest paywall gives you a couple articles before asking you to register, and the hardest one won’t let you access any content without registering, and putting up your credit card, first.

Of course, magazine subscription marketing must include long-term calculations such as how many renewals you get from subscribers who came in on the softest offer vs. the hardest offer. That means years of testing your offers to determine which ones work for your audience and your bottom line, but this continuum is the place to start.

Versus digital magazine subscription marketing


Many of the same methods used to garner print publications also work digitally. Paywalls look a whole lot like the offer continuum above, and may of the magazine subscription marketing techniques used digitally were derived from the days of print.

For example, some publishers also give away sample issues in their app to entice customers to buy something. Self offers an actual archive issue; Consumer Reports offers what looks like an old issue, but could be an issue compiled specifically for the purpose. A case study noted that for Popular Science, when they tested a specifically designed sample issue against a free trial, the sample issue, showing off the best of the digital edition, easily bested the free trial offer. (Don’t hesitate to run your own similar test, though. Free trials are classic marketing techniques for a reason!) 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s shocking to us how many publishers (and we’re talking big players) have elaborate websites hosting subscription pages to build print circulation … but their digital products go unmentioned. On the platform where they’re most likely to find their tech-savvy readers! For heaven’s sake, sell your digital magazine on your website! Don’t hide your digital editions under a barrel!

03-magazine-subscription-marketing-ideas-for-selling-more-print-and-digitalOne of the product bundles offered by Scientific American includes print, digital, and the incredible archive that SA fully digitized, dating back to the magazine’s first issue in August 1845 and including contributors such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. Their pricing plan is as follows:

  • $99.00/year – All access, with print, digital, app, and complete archive access.
  • $39.99/year – Digital access with tablet and archive access to the last four years.
  • $34.99/year – Print and tablet access.

We like a three-tier pricing model very much, but we find that contrast pricing works better in this respect. In order to increase conversions for the higher-priced product, the top two choices must be priced more closely together than the bottom two. We also see higher conversion rates when 7 is used as the final number in a price, so we tend to use and reserve the 7 as the ending number for the package we want the them to take. So our pricing recommendation may look more like this:

  • $99.97/year – All access, with print, digital, app, and complete archive access.
  • $89.99/year – Digital access with tablet and archive access to the last 4 years.
  • $49.99/year – Print and tablet access.

In the first case, most people would choose the middle product because the $99 product is too large a jump pricing-wise. In the updated pricing model, nobody picks the middle choice, and more than 50% choose the highest price.

And while few publishers have an archive as old and rich as Scientific American, most legacy publishers have older content that their subscribers would love to access. Our clients who bundle an archive with the digital magazine (and leverage decoy pricing like above) consistently deliver more sales and revenue than the digital magazine or the library alone.

And there’s no excuse not to market to your existing print subscribers. Include a special offer for them when you have to send a renewal or billing notice anyway, and the cost is minimal. Make an effort to convert all of your print subscribers to digital subscribers in one form or another.


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