How Magazine Publishers Are Selling Subscriptions on Twitter

Incorporating a social media strategy into your subscription sales may mean giving more away, but receiving even more in return

Several months ago, I paid five dollars for a subscription to Paste Magazine. The thing is, if I wanted to, I could have paid a dollar.

Strange subscription model, right? Actually, Paste is just one among the many magazines who are struggling in our industry right now. As a privately owned company, they simply decided not to rely on the economy to get back on track or to wait for new investors.

Instead they decided that they’d be willing to offer subscriptions to anyone who paid them at least a dollar when they launched the Campaign to Save Paste.

How Paste Magazine has turned $1 into $25

Over 10,000 people have taken Paste up on their offer since the campaign launched in April. I’m sure many of those people have paid a mere dollar, but luckily for Paste, even more people decided to pitch in a few extra bucks.

Editor-in-chief Josh Jackson says they’ve received over $250,000 from 10,000 donors. It seems that plenty of people took advantage of the promotion to pay “whatever they want”, but Paste is still technically getting $25 per subscription which is $13.12 more than they charge for an annual subscription.

The campaign has since dwindled, and Paste is no longer offering free subscriptions unless you donate $350 or more, but the initial buzz was enough for them to be written up in dozens of newspapers, blogs and magazines about their plight.

Back to my original point— See, I probably wouldn’t have subscribed to Paste on any other day. Sure I’ve read their blogs and they’re great, but I already get enough magazines and Paste just wasn’t on my must-have list. However, through Twitter, I saw a tweet about the promotion that persuaded me to subscribe.

And Paste isn’t the only magazine using Twitter to inspire magazine sales and renewed interest. Inked Magazine is currently running a contest that asks people to re-tweet their content tweet in order to enter for a free subscription.

Will this immediately boost subscription sales? Probably not, but old readers of the magazine who may have unsubscribed years ago may start following them on Twitter and—assuming they don’t win the contest—possibly subscribe later on.

Download a FREE copy of 7 Ways to Monetize your Portal Audience, and discover how today's top publishers are generating revenue through memberships, events, clubs, sponsorships, and more.

How can publishers make money when they’re giving everything away?

Well as you know, magazines thrive on ad dollars. The more subscribers you have, the more advertisers you’ll attract. The more you give away, the more people will be inclined to buy. This is easily seen with the example of Paste. They asked for a dollar, they got twenty-five dollars. Not too shabby.

Chris Anderson, author of bestselling The Long Tail has a new book called Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

He writes, “People are making lots of money charging nothing. Not nothing for everything, but nothing for enough that we have essentially created an economy as big as a good-sized country around the concept of $0.00”.

For example, you can get the digital version of his book for free online. If you want a hard copy, you’ll be paying $26.99.

Anderson writes on his Twitter account, “The main reason to give away your book free online: so people can read it and argue with what it’s actually about, rather than some rumor.”

This whole free “phenomenon” (which we’ve been telling you about about for years now, by the way), isn’t limited to publishers either. Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor was recently quoted as saying, “Give your record away…Word of mouth is the only true marketing that matters.”

From our experience, the fastest way to “spread the word” is through Twitter. You publish 140 characters and suddenly it’s spreading from your follower list and retweeted into other peoples lists, and soon all of Twitter knows about you and your promotion. The more creative (and the more free), the quicker words will spread.

If you’re looking for new ways to use Twitter for marketing, join me this Wednesday for our Twitter for Publishers webinar.

Also on the webinar to share their experience using Twitter as a marketing and content distribution channel, we have Shirley Brady of BusinessWeekBrian Dresher of USAToday.com and Kathy McCabe of the Dream of Italy newsletter.

Register now to join us on Wednesday at 12:30 Eastern for Twitter for Publishers. Can’t attend? Just order the CD instead!

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