Inside the Harvard Business Review Content Comes First (1,872
This circulation pro says HBR has an extremely high retention rate—the larger share of its 249,000 annual paid subscribers renew—and he predicts that publishing more frequently will increase circulation and generate higher revenues. Priced at $118 per year, a majority of HBR's total revenue is generated by subscriptions, an atypical revenue structure in magazine publishing. Issues average 170 pages and are 70-percent editorial.
The lion's share
Because it generates more than half of its revenue from subscription sales, HBR always is looking for a few good subscribers. Still considered its workhorse, direct mail accounts for the majority of HBR's acquisition efforts. It mails four prospecting efforts a year—two domestic and two international—for a total of 8 million mail pieces annually.
HBR's long-term running control package is an unassuming white, closed-faced, #10 envelope with a four-page nested letter, a BRE and order form—all of which are personalized. Also inserted are a four-color brochure and a four-color buck slip that promotes its current premium "Business Classics: Fifteen Key Concepts for Managerial Success," a collection of articles reprinted from HBR.
Created by a freelance copywriter in 1993, this package has remained HBR's control for nearly eight years—despite several attempts by the same copywriter to beat it. [HBR declines to reveal the identity of its treasured copywriter.] While it has undergone tweaks and variations over the years, the mailing saw its most dramatic lift in response when the four-page letter outpulled a formerly used two-page letter.
To promote its recent increase in frequency, Cohen opted to add an insert. "The challenge was how to support the change without messing with the control."
Even though it benefits from the university's non-profit status and mails at reduced postal rates, this modest package is expensive to mail due to the lettershop costs associated with a three-way match (three pieces are personalized). Because the profitability of a subscriber is determined by his or her lifetime value, the expense of the mailing is such that Cohen is searching for ways to reduce his cost per order and see a more consistent profitability in the first year.