The COVID Bump – Making it Stick

Publishers understand that getting someone to subscribe to their magazine is worth the effort. Subscriptions signify a deeper relationship to a brand than a newsstand purchase and create a habit that becomes a part of their lifestyle, something they look forward to.

So will the bump that publishers are seeing in subscriptions last once the pandemic is over, or is it just a short-term thing?

“On looking at the longevity of subscription bumps, there does need to be a distinction made with types of magazines,” writes Esther Kezia Thorpe in Media Voices Podcast. “News-focused magazines like The Week and The Economist will continue growth as long as the world continues to be unpredictable and chaotic.

“But for consumer and niche titles, the trend is far more difficult to predict,” Kezia Thorpe continues. “The pandemic adds magazine casualties every day, such as Q which folded after 34 years after circulation had dwindled to almost 10% of what it had been in 2001.”

While she’s not optimistic that the surge will continue (she expects the trend to reverse within a few years), there’s another way to look at reader revenue, according to Media Voices’ Peter Houston.

“Once the platform play fell apart, direct relationships became crucial again,” he points out. “For a few years now, the focus has been back on readers, first as registered users then as subscribers.”

These subscriptions, he believes, are part of a wider environment of reader engagement, with revenue streams possible for print fans, plus digital content memberships and other opportunities.

“Focusing on subscriptions is good business practice for many publishers, particularly in terms of stabilizing a magazine’s cashflow, but as with most things, one size does not fit all,” points out Mary Hogarth, a media specialist at The Magazine Expert. “Some titles will be more successful than others when it comes to building a healthy subscription base, namely those specialist or business magazines that offer value.”

There it is again – offering value. The real key to growth is to be so in tune with your readers that you become essential to them, whether it’s news and information they value, or passion-based lifestyle content that speaks to their heart.

And once you have those subscribers, you best work hard to keep them, Kezia Thorpe notes, citing research that shows it’s much cheaper to retain existing readers than acquire new ones.

Ultimately, it’s about taking the long view on sustainability.

“Let’s not reverse years of progress in digital publishing by turning it back into a battle of print vs digital,” Kezia Thorpe warns. “Each has their place, and the key for sustainability now is working out what is recoverable from the coronavirus crisis, and what it is time to turn the page on.”