The Secret of the Four-Legged Stool for Selling Digital Magazine Subscriptions

The four-legged stool technique was developed originally for selling financial newsletters but it applies to selling digital magazine subscriptions.

four-legged stool magazine

The four-legged stool technique for marketing your business was developed originally by Bill Bonner of Agora Publishing, specifically for selling financial newsletters. However, these four elements also work when selling 90 to 95 percent of all information products.

The concept is pretty simple: a four-legged stool is very stable. If you pull one leg off, it’s only relatively stable—you can still sit on it, but not as comfortably as you would a four-legged stool.

Pull two legs off and you’re going to fall over.

The message here is that your marketing efforts must contain all four legs of the stool for the promotion to truly succeed.

Here are the elements of the four-legged stool:

  1. Credibility: The first question people always ask is “Who are you?” If you’re Time, Inc., you are very credible. If you’re America’s Test Kitchen, you are very credible. But if you are a start-up publishing company, you have to establish credibility.
  2. Track Record: If you run a financial newsletter, your track record would be pretty straightforward. What stocks did you pick and how much profit did you make? Another way to look at it, is, “how well does the product perform?”
  3. Big Idea: What is unique about your product?
  4. Future Benefit: A lot of people neglect this. Your future benefit would answer: “if I buy this today, what benefit do I get going forward?”


Now let’s apply the four-legged stool to your digital magazine as a product. Imagine you already have all four legs on the previous stool, so now we take a look at the product itself. The seat is your digital magazine, and the legs holding it up include:

1. Digital Magazine Website: To sell digital magazines, the platform needs to be user-friendly, and content should be easy to consume, just like a magazine. We have talked about the perfect digital magazine template many times, and one thing that never changes is that digital magazines need to be formatted in HTML, not flipbooks so that they’re easy to consume. And there must be persistent navigation that includes the table of contents so that users know when they’re on premium content, versus when they’re viewing free content.

2. Robust Digital Archive: Thinking back to the “future benefit” on the previous stool, the benefit of subscribing to a digital magazine is not only instant access to an archive of information immediately, but the promise of information for the next twelve months and beyond. This includes curated collections that help the reader digest content on specific topics more easily than browsing by issue. So for example, Food Gardening Magazine has a Tomato Collection that is not only a guide to growing tomatoes but curates other tomato-related articles on the digital magazine website.

3. Library Previews: In addition to Spotlight emails, which promote the digital magazine subscription directly, Library Previews are editorially-driven advertorials that give away chunks of content from the premium magazine to free subscribers, in an effort to convert them into paid subscribers. Without Library Previews, you are either sending a free newsletter to free content, or sending an obvious promotional email that people get tired of, so this bridges the gap by satisfying free subscribers and intriguing them to make the next step. This is probably the most important email you’ll send when you sell a digital magazine subscription, yet very few publishers dedicate the resources to produce them.

4. Six Sigma Marketing: This is the fourth leg of your four-legged stool that if you pulled out, might not collapse the stool, but it’s a heck of a lot more sturdy with all four. Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach for the continuous improvement of any product, process, or service. It seeks to continuously remove the weakest-performing components and replace them with better-performing components – a process and an approach we believe works well when applied to direct response and email marketing. In this instance, we’re talking about the Spotlight emails you send to promote your digital magazine subscription. We are deploying up to six Spotlight and Preview campaigns per week with many of our publishing partners, and without testing and constantly improving using Six Sigma methodology, we’d be shooting in the dark.

Take a look at your marketing, or at your digital magazine product, and make sure it contains all four legs.

Have you ever heard of the four-legged stool? Which legs are weakest and why do you think that is? Leave a comment below.


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