In 2019, free magazine “Arkansas Life” took desperate and creative action to save itself. The publisher sent out a letter begging the magazine’s audience to become paid subscribers — or lose this “vital” publication forever. The “Arkansas Life” approach may sound dramatic, but it illustrates a concern most magazine publishers share. What can publishers do right now to increase print subscriptions?
The status of print subscriptions
In 2019, Arkansas Life was going down — and they knew it. The free regional publication decided to send a letter with their winter edition spelling out their dire circumstances in no uncertain terms: We will cease production if our readers don’t subscribe. The magazine had been free since 2008, and until late 2019, its publication was primarily financed through advertising and a limited number of voluntary subscribers.
Social media played a key role in the success of their plea. Their pitch included a countdown to the magazine’s shutdown on social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They provided testimonials from their staff and contributors. And a popular local restaurant got into the spirit of the countdown by offering new subscribers a free lunch. The hashtag #SaveArkansasLife kept the story going.
And it worked. Readers paid up at $20 per annual subscription. “Arkansas Life” cleared its financial hurdle — for a time. Only a fraction of its readership transitioned to the pay-to-play model, but it was enough to keep the operation running until the pandemic hit. In the summer of 2020, the magazine closed its doors for good.
What can publishers learn from this unprecedented effort to stay afloat? To remain competitive, the print magazine business requires creative thinking and bold action.
To sell more subscriptions, get creative
Complacency is the enemy of successful subscription models in today’s publishing market. Efforts to monetize content — whatever the channel, market, or distribution model — must be a 24/7 year-round job. Try these five strategies for boosting your subscription numbers:
- Convert single-issue buyers into long-term subscribers. A deliberate approach should not, in general, reach the level of last-minute desperation demonstrated by “Arkansas Life.” But you can direct messages to your target audience with other methods, such as reducing the cover price for first time subscribers or offering a free welcome gift.
- Focus on being the best in class. Create a value proposition your readers can’t resist. Readers want compelling original content about the topics they care about. They want aesthetically pleasing publications with heavy paper and memorable images. For magazines to thrive, they must carve out a niche far removed from anything regarded as “typical.”
- Create a strong, high-quality digital newsletter with subscriber-exclusive content. Sure, we’re talking about subscribing to a print magazine, but for a reader to cross the paywall, they need more. Provide your print subscribers with content created and curated just for them.
- Know what your readers want. Survey your readers annually and engage them through other channels, so you know precisely what matters to your audience. Preferences change, so this is not a one-and-done proposition.
- Make your cover pop. Human nature is wont to judge a book by its cover, so make yours count. Consider your cover from a fresh perspective. How will it appear when displayed in the store? The best covers stand out on any shelf.
Trends for 2022
One thing is clear: Magazine publishing trends are shifting — with less reliance on advertisers and more on subscribers. Publication quality is improving as print becomes the opposite of digital — tangible content subscribers want to hold onto and display in their own spaces.
Dr. Samir Husni — known as “Mr. Magazine” for his expertise and industry longevity — says, “Magazines are the original influencers. People used to say, ‘I saw this in Life Magazine.’ It was the brand that carried the influence.” We know millennials read magazines. Folio points out, “For Gen Z, the first generation to fully grow up in a digital world, to develop a fondness for print was an unexpected plot twist.” This population doesn’t want to be connected every second. Digital connection is not novel for them, and in many cases, younger audiences are now reading more than their parents. This is good news for magazine publishers.
To increase readership in 2022, create and curate notable, trustworthy content, and meet your readers’ expectations with quality publications worth the price of subscription. Contact your Sheridan representative to learn how we can help you streamline processes, reduce costs, and keep up with the latest in print and publishing.