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Editorial-heavy package is winner for self-healing title in competitive market.

Reports on the success of Soundview Publications' Women's Health Letter (NL/NL 10/30/99) leads observers to wonder how large this market is. How many more health, alternative health and nutrition titles can succeed?

Here's a profile of another success story.

Dr. Andrew Weil's Self-Healing newsletter has grown rapidly from its 1995 launch to a circulation of 400,000. Despite the strong competition in health newsletters from firms like Phillips and Soundview, publisher David Thorne believed interest in alternative health and self-healing was strong enough to support his proposed title and that Dr. Weil, well-known in the field and a best-selling author, could compete with established newsletter gurus like Dr. Julian Whitaker.

For the launch they created a "standard" celebrity newsletter package featuring a large 4-color photo of Dr. Weil on the outer and on the sales letter. Only at the "last minute" did they decide to test and went to Florida copywriter Hershall Gordon Lewis who created a low-key #10 package--heavy editorial copy on the teaser and sales letter focused on the health conditions Weil's recommendations are designed to aid.

Which was the winner? ("Experts" at conferences love to do this--hold up the two envelopes and ask, "Which was the winner?" I've done it myself. On average the marketers in the audience are "right" about half the time. Bruce Kinsey, a veteran Washington-area marketer, says someone who is right 60% of the time in these quizzes is an "expert.")

This time the "editorial" package was the winner by 20% over the celebrity-focused package. And this has held through back-testing, although Dr. Weil has become still better known, even appearing on the cover of Time magazine.

Publisher Thorne also conducted other tests:

Postal indicia. Thorne tested a live stamp (bulk rate) against a preprinted indicia, and the stamp outpulled by 15% (even though no one receiving this copy-heavy envelope would have imagined it to be "personal" mail).

Price test. Their launch price was $16. Testing higher prices had these results:

$16.95--minus 3%

$18.95--minus 8%

$22.95--minus 22%

You do the math. The $18.95 price brings in just about the same number of initial dollars but, at the end of year one, you have 920 subs rather than 1,000 to begin the renewal process.

Math, part two. Thorne says they are currently mailing five to seven million pieces a year. He didn't divulge these figures, but a net response rate of 3% mailed to seven million names yields 210,000 new subs. However, with an overall renewal rate of 50%, strong for a low-ticket consumer newsletter, you need 200,000 new orders to maintain the 400,000 circ. Base--before you can grow.

Why is getting rich publishing consumer newsletters harder than it looks? The late Dick Benson, the marketing master who built first Contest News-Letter and then the University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter to 1,000,000 circulation levels, once told me that while successful high-price business newsletters may show 25% to 33% profit levels, "any low-ticket consumer title is very fortunate to get even close to 10% profits."

Thorne and Dr. Weil's reader? She's an educated woman (80% are female), affluent, and 45-50 years old. Over all my experience with newsletter marketing, I have yet to find a title that claims any significant number of subscribers under 40.

Fred Goss is editor-publisher of Fred Goss' What's Working in Direct Marketing.
COPYRIGHT 1999 The Newsletter on Newsletters LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Goss, Fred
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Nov 30, 1999
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