The Best Digital Magazine Subscription Website Offer

While many magazine publishers struggle to find the right subscription marketing strategy, The Economist demonstrates its regard for long-term subscriber relationships.

Editor’s note: Since we published this article, we’ve since moved in favor of contrast pricing, and here’s why.

The simplest subscription website pricing strategy is Universal Access and The Economist uses it well.

I’ve spent hours, and several hundred dollars, buying digital magazines. I’ve bounced around between my iPad, Kindle Fire, and the World Wide Web. I purchased from Condé Nast, Hearst, Rodale, and The Economist.

The Economist offers subscribers the best customer experience

I started by purchasing a one-year subscription to The Economist on the iPad. The experience was clean and effortless. I chose the one-year offer, entered my Apple password, agreed to share data with The Economist and set up an account that would give me unrestricted access to The Economist website. Unrestricted website access allows me to read the entire archive back to 1997, breaking content, and the weekly audio edition delivered as a podcast. The subscription offer on the website also informed me that my subscription granted me access to the Android and iPhone editions.

Obviously, the above is a very customer friendly offer. It grants me access to the same content in different formats. It accommodates my need for snack reading on the iPhone, in-depth reading on the iPad, audio listing on the go, and archive research from my iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and iMac from anywhere in the world.

Four reasons publishers should adopt universal digital access

No subscriber left behind: If I had to handicap the various formats on which we are currently publishing magazines and magazine content, the World Wide Web looks to be the best contender for long-term stability and success. The iPad and iPhone would be numbers two and three in my digital magazine winners circle. I’m also pretty sure print is not an edition The Economist or any other magazine will be serving up in 20 years (with the possible exception of hardbound collector’s editions). Thus, it’s important for publishers to build direct relationships that are simple and straightforward with their customers on every conceivable platform that may come and go over the next couple of decades. Universal Digital Access, as a policy, creates an environment where subscribers can safely sample different platforms without fear of being left behind. From the publishers point of view, a subscriber is a horrible thing to waste, and anyone who subscribes to our content on any platform, in any edition, should be given the big bear hug of love that includes premium access to our subscription website.

Note: If you don’t have a premium subscription website, build one, now.


Permission to communicate: When a customer buys a print edition, an iPad edition, an iPhone edition, a Kindle edition, a Nook edition, a Zinio edition, or any other non-website edition, the publisher should make it priority-one to get that customer registered for unrestricted website access. There is an old direct marketing adage that marketers should never ask for information they don’t need, and get the information they need by giving the customer what they want. A robust next-generation subscription website with HTML archives, issue archives, audio content, video content, and an engaged and interactive user community provide the digital or print customer with plenty of reasons to claim their right to unrestricted website access. The claim, of course, grants the publisher permission to communicate via the website, e-mail newsletters, and perhaps Twitter and Facebook. Permission to communicate is the lifeblood of a multi platform niche media publisher.

Building customer relationships: While I am incredibly excited about the rapid adoption of tablet computers and digital magazines, I still believe the World Wide Web is the nexus for niche media customer relationships. A well-designed niche media website will include a next-generation magazine subscription website, plus an open portal for building and maintaining affinity relationships, and an online store for marketing books, videos, software, and the myriad of special interest merchandise that a niche media publisher can recommend to its constituents.

Keep more money: The Economist can promote to subscribers to buy their subscription on their website, which allows them to keep subscriber information and all of the revenue from the sale. Buying directly on the website gives users credentials that activates on iPad or Android with no additional money being spent as well.

The short and the long of it

While charging customers separately for the same content or similar content on multiple platforms in multiple editions may provide the opportunity for some short-term profit taking, it is not in the customers’ or publishers’ long-term best interests. It looks as if many publishers may take a decade or more to discover their long-term best interest. For the moment, we can look to publishers like The Economist for inspiration that transcends short-term thinking.

Do you have a case study that exemplifies Universal Digital Access? If so, please post a comment and share it with the Mequoda Community and me.

Disagree with my position? Then post a comment, and make the case for short-term thinking.


Originally published on Nov. 28, 2011

    Alan C.

    I am currently publishing a digital magazine (Restoration Highway Magazine via the MagCast platform)on the iPad/iPhone Apple Newsstand but I realize that I need to offer other delivery systems to better attract my demographic. Do you know of any other solutions other than Zineo and others like them who take a % cut (or expensive buy-in) to provide the sales back office and control subs?


    Excellent, inspiring, article Don.

    I agree with @Greg’s concern about Apple clouding the universal access waters. And, I can’t help but wonder how Amazon may evolve now that they have their game-changing Kindle on the market.

    For now it’s certainly an important goal for media/publishers and their technology platform developers.


    I agree with your position that we want universal access, I don’t believe Apple’s rules are helping. As you note, Apple controls the online subscription (on iPad and iPhone) unless the customer agrees to share information with the publisher. That makes “universal access” a little trickier.

    It works okay with a new subscription, where the Apple account and the publisher’s account are automatically in synch, but it doesn’t work very well for extending digital access to existing subscribers.

    Right now, I think publishers are better off avoiding the Apple store altogether and finding other ways to deliver content to iPads and iPhones — such as through a web browser, authenticating against their own database.


      While I agree that we as publishers will drive a lot of traffic, if you have a big name like Kiplinger, I’d imagine wanting to be found anywhere your customer is looking for you will be the best policy for both publisher and subscriber. The trick is having a subscription website that can cause print subscribers to set up digital accounts, which can then empower digital magazine subscription apps with no revenue going to Apple.

      If a publisher doesn’t present their content in the Apple or Amazon store, customers will likely be disappointed. These customers will then do one of two things: They will find the content they are looking for through the World Wide Web, or they will buy the content from a competing brand that exists in the Apple or Amazon store.

      There is a value in placing products in any logical location where a customer might be looking.


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