Digital Magazine Publishing

How to Promote a Magazine Through Email Spotlights

I recently talked to a publisher who, up until recently, almost never promoted his magazine. But he didn’t realize it. He has a Portal with free content, a magazine website that sells his magazine, and an online store with a dozen books that sell for $10-$20 each.

He felt pretty organized and was excited to brag

How to promote a magazine through emails you can test every quarter

I recently talked to a publisher who, up until recently, almost never promoted his magazine. But he didn’t realize it. He has a Portal with free content, a magazine website that sells his magazine, and an online store with a dozen books that sell for $10-$20 each.

He felt pretty organized and was excited to brag about how well he’d been implementing the Mequoda Method. And we were excited to hear it.

So as not to divulge this particular publisher, let’s say he’s in the fishing niche. He has ten fishing topics he writes about on his portal, and he publishes five days a week. He also has ten paid books, one for each topic he writes about. So far so good, right? This makes daily emails a no-brainer for him.

  • If he’s publishing a new blog post about fishing tackle on Monday, his featured product in his daily email, is his $20 book about buying the best tackle.
  • If he’s publishing a post about deep sea fishing on Tuesday, his featured product in his daily email is a $10 book about the 10 best deep sea fishing areas in the U.S.
  • If he’s publishing a post about fishing gear fishing on Wednesday, his featured product in his daily email is a $15 book about the best fishing gear for professional fisherman.

You get the idea. In his daily email, there’s complete alignment between the free blog post, and the paid product, which will boost conversion rates on these free editorial emails.

So far, he’s getting an A+ on alignment.

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He was pretty proud of himself, thinking he’d totally nailed our best practice email strategy.

But he also sends out promotional spotlight emails twice a week, once on Monday and once on Wednesday. A spotlight email is a solo promotion that promotes just one product. It can be in the form of a salesletter, or could be much shorter, but it focuses on one product.

Naturally, his spotlight email on Monday was the book about buying the best tackle, and the wednesday spotlight was the book about the best fishing gear. He’s totally nailing this alignment thing, much moreso than other publishers at this point.

But when we looked at his email history, he hadn’t sent a magazine promotion in months. In fact, he had been doing such a good job aligning his free daily emails with their most perfectly aligned paid book spotlights, that any intended promotions for his magazine were practically forgotten.

His defense, when we asked him about it, was that he figured most of the people on his email list were already subscribers, something we determined to be very far from the truth. Because in fact, most of his email list came from his Portal because he’s doing great job at 3C Zone Architecture, too. For every topic he writes about, he has a freebie handbook. When someone reads a post about saltwater fishing, they are offered a freebie handbook about saltwater fishing in exchange for their email address.

So here he is, doing everything right in terms of alignment (and yes, still generating book revenue every time he sends a spotlight to his 35,000 person email subscriber list), but his magazine subscriber list isn’t growing.

How to promote a magazine through email Spotlights

As with any product you’ll ever have, if you want to sell it, you have to promote it. Even the most search-optimized landing page for a best-selling product that generates a ton of free traffic from search, can generate more revenue through email promotion.

Think about it, if your email list has 35,000 people on it, (or 100,000, or 500,000 or more), all you need is to hit “send” and a big chunk of those subscribers will see your magazine promotion. If you’ve been delivering them great content every day through email, they might be most inclined to pay for your magazine.

To get in the habit of doing exactly that, first, develop your spotlight email template.

In fact, develop twelve of them.

  1. A short one, straight to the point with a super-charged call to action.
  2. A long one, including bullet points about every benefit they get as a magazine subscriber, and many calls to action.
  3. One with video, featuring exclusive content only available to magazine subscribers.
  4. One with a large image above the fold that provokes the email subscriber to keep reading to the call to action.
  5. One that’s highly designed and has more images than text.
  6. One in the form of a plain-text email from the editor.
  7. One that polls them on their favorite content from your site (with a more subtle CTA for the magazine).
  8. One that includes a “once a year” offer on the rate.
  9. One that includes reader testimonials.
  10. One that includes a list of links to premium content that would be immediately available to them, if they signed up for your web edition.
  11. A free trial offer.
  12. A “bonus gift” offer.

Once you’ve created your twelve email templates, to satisfy a whole quarter, choose a day of the week, say Wednesday, and roll through them every twelve weeks.

For example, here’s a promotion from Dwell, exemplifying the “free gift” technique.

Meanwhile, Christopher Kimball at America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country has a more personal relationship with his readers, and offers them a free trial through a personal letter signed by him.


Because all of the promotions are so varied, your readers won’t become bored of them, and over time you’ll be able to determine which templates generate the most revenue. Once you determine your top templates, create more of those and ditch the ones that don’t work.

But no matter what you do, don’t forget to promote your magazine.

By Don Nicholas

Chief Executive Officer

During his decades long career, Don has worked with colleagues, clients and partners to design digital publishing and marketing systems for more than 300 magazines, newsletters, memberships, clubs, and events. Don currently serves as executive publisher for Cabot Wealth Network, Food Gardening Network, Financial Freedom Federation, I Like Crochet Network, I Like Knitting Network, and Recipe Lion Clubs. His team's Haven WordPress CXMS offers publishers the industry’s most flexible and robust online publishing and marketing platform. Don and his strategy team have served as management advisors for virtually every major niche publishing company in North America including Meredith, Hearst, Trusted Media Brands, and hundreds of independent for-profit and nonprofit organizations. He has managed and led educational events for MPA, SIPA, FIPP and Harvard University. He has authored numerous books and hundreds of articles on journalism, publishing, technology and marketing. Before founding Mequoda in 2004, he served as founder and chief executive officer for Blue Dolphin Magazines and Lighthouse Communications Group. He started his media career as a journalist and producer working for the Armed Forces Network aboard the USS Enterprise. Don holds degrees and certifications in organizational management, journalism and electrical engineering from Capella University, Sacramento State University, and the United States Navy.

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