Direct Mail Marketing Trends for Magazine Publishers

Magazines have long been among the most sophisticated users of direct mail (for the very latest look at trends, into both direct mail and email marketing by magazines, along with extensive analysis, see DirectMarketingIQ’s just-released Magazine Publishing Industry Sector Report). Many fine copywriters and designers cut their teeth on subscription packages and developed giant reputations as a result of their ability to sell subscriptions through this channel.

There are a number of reasons why publishers have had a successful relationship with this type of advertising. Chief among them, it’s been impossible to manage a magazine rate base without some level of direct mail in the source mix. Subscription sources didn’t change much for a very long time.

There were insert cards, agents, trade shows, white mail, gift subscriptions, space advertising and telemarketing — plus any special sources a magazine could develop on its own. In the 1950s, the sweeps marketing companies came along and that was the last really viable subscription source until the advent of websites and email over 50 years later. So, even though it was always expensive, direct mail became the workhorse of magazine subscription sales because it was reliable and predictable in a way most other sources were not. It still is.

Direct mail remains the most important source of subscriptions for most magazine publishers because it’s also flexible and offers more volume potential than other sources. However, it’s more expensive than ever, so some things have changed as a result, particularly over the last year or so. Some of these changes are necessary and expected; others, not so much.

Here are the trends that I’ve noticed among our clients and others over the past 12 to 18 months:

1. Volume is down
No surprise there. Many publishers cut out an entire mailing last year. All eliminated marginal mailing lists. Most are pushing harder on other less expensive sources to produce more orders and hold the line on direct mail volume. While budgets are under so much pressure and direct mail packages cost so much to produce and mail, I expect this trend to continue.

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