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More on the vanishing newsletter subscriber. (DM notebook).

A few issues back I wrote a piece comparing newsletter marketing to the Ice Capades, evidently causing mirth in some quarters (NL/NL 9/15/02)

Can I try again with the stock market? I understand that something like $4.5 trillion has been lost during the market's almost free-fall from record highs. As a financial neophyte, I wonder, "Where did it go?" I mean I know where money goes from my bank account--to Lands' End, the good people at Niagara Mohawk power, etc.

But I realize I can also ask the same question about newsletter subscribers. Recently NL/NL mentioned four leading consumer health titles--from the Mayo Clinic, U.C. Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard--that, in combination, are currently reporting circulation down a collective 1,272,000 subscribers from their respective circulation peaks. And that's something on the order of $20-$30 million in revenues, even at their low prices.

Where did they go?

Where did they go? The publishers of these titles have a pretty good fix on the demographics and psychographics of their readers: age, income, mindset, etc. Those former subscribers are certainly still out there.

In most cases they still don't trust the medical establishment to be giving them the right information. Where are they getting health information now? Online? From the internet? From Dr. Tim Johnson on Good Morning America? I don't know. But, like the stock market wealth in paragraph two, they're gone.

The future

But--and this is an important point that savvy publishers are taking to the bank--if some print newsletter subscribers are "gone," perhaps they are being replaced with a new type of prospect. With the steady increase in the educated, relatively affluent population, the demand for information is certainly not gone. It's even growing.

Perhaps the future for newsletter publishers is not tied to 8 1/2 x 11" printed pieces of paper. Newsletter publishers need to approach readers in the formats they prefer--any type of format: vibrant web sites, e-mail newsletters, interactive e-mail alerts, PDF files, as well as print products that can be absorbed at the subscriber's leisure.

The stock market will surely come back again eventually--although as J.M. Keynes famously observed, in the long run we are all dead. I'm less sure about newsletter subscribers. Like the Ice Capades ticket buyers of yore, they may just be "gone for good."

"Just now getting back to pre-9/11 sales"

I spoke recently with one of my favorite newsletter publishers, Mark Eversman of Paris Notes. He said, "It's been a relatively flat year for sales. We're just now getting back to pre-9/11 levels. I took a big hit with the direct mail piece I eventually sent out in November of last year. Response was off about 30 percent."

(Direct mailers in 2001 took the double hit from both the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax scare that had people afraid to open their mail. Eversman's experience pretty well mirrors the unscientific sampling of other newsletter publishers I've spoken with recently.)

I wasn't crass enough to push him for numbers, but I know Eversman well enough to understand that he's close enough with the dollar/franc/euro that he wouldn't ever plan to mail at a loss. At a $39/year price, even with his no-frills control, he'd need somewhere around a 1.3 percent response to break even.

A 1.5 percent response at his mailing quantities (he's about to drop 250,000) would bring in an immediate profit of $20,000 to $25,000 and enough new subs to lead to modest overall circulation growth--maybe in the high single digit. Thirty percent off in response, however, leads to losing a similar amount of money and a decline in total subscribers.

Paris Notes does have a successful web site; they market its archive as "It's like getting two years free." That type of promotion and delivery may be the future for newsletters--finding the way deliver information to readers in a format that they are willing to pay for.
COPYRIGHT 2002 The Newsletter on Newsletters LLC
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Copyright 2002, 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, 2002
Words:670
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