A compelling route for the mainstream media

The Economist is one of the best-value subscription deals for a mainstream medium that I can think of.

For the amount I pay quarterly (about £20, if I recall correctly), I get a print magazine every Friday in the mail, access to broader and deeper content online and a terrific archive, plus each week’s issue as a podcast (or, as The Economist calls it, an audio edition).

As a paying subscriber, I’m pleased with the deal, especially as the actual content is stellar.

So I wouldn’t think The Economist has the same pressing concerns as other mainstream media in thinking about making money in a climate of declining ad revenue and print readership affecting the entire industry, in every major market.

I could be wrong, though, after reading a story in Advertising Age about a circulation-boosting experiment The Economist has started in New York for its US edition.

In a potential advance for the forces of paid content, The Economist is introducing a trial program today that lets New Yorkers use their cellphones to order overnight home delivery of the new issue at the regular newsstand price.

New Yorkers who have signed up for weekly texts announcing each issue’s topics will also receive a URL for a web page they can visit to order the issue. Those who order by 9 p.m. are guaranteed a hand-delivered copy by 6 a.m. the next morning — in time to beat the commute. The weekly texts go out on Thursday afternoons, meaning recipients can get overnight copies before newsstands get them at about 9 a.m.

If you make it easy for people to say ‘yes’ to sample your product or service, giving them greater choice in the ways to do that, you’ll clearly have more chances of success.

Ad Age notes it was even easier when The Economist trialled this experiment in London a few months ago.

[…] people who have preregistered can just reply to the text messages to get their overnight copies. The Economist hopes to have that simpler system in place by the time it widens the New York trial to cover the entire U.S.

But this isn’t really about supporting a print publication with niche ways to monetize. Ad Age’s concluding comment is significant:

[…] The circulation generated through the cellphone program is likely to remain very small as a proportion of the whole. In England, the number of buyers via text has numbered "hundreds not thousands a week," [Paul Rossi, North America publisher] said. "As a percentage, that’s not very much."

But the hope is the system will give The Economist better insight on its occasional buyers, such as the news subjects to which they respond most.

Being a subscriber I’m not an occasional buyer, but customized news and information content would definitely interest me. Not in print, though, but electronically via my device of preference whether that’s a mobile device, desktop PC, laptop or any combination.

I’d happily ditch print and get everything digitally. While I wait expectantly for this morning’s visit from the postman, I’ve already started reading today’s Economist in my RSS reader, scanning story headlines to see what grabs my attention. That content was there yesterday.

Maybe this is a compelling route for the mainstream media. Second only to compelling content.

Related – on my Posterous blog, I posted a story from PaidContent on Taking The Plunge: How Newspaper Sites That Charge Are Faring.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Luis Barrueta

    As desirable and inevitable the route to all-digital media is, I guess The Economist in some regions is taking it a bit too far with its subscribers. Opposite to what they are doing in London on NY about a next-day delivery of a single issue, in 30 European cities they stopped using courier delivery, which means that we subscribers now have to settle for the previous week’s issue over weekends. They use as an argument – an excuse I’d say – the fact that the online version is available on Thursdays. It is interesting to see how such a respectable publication has completely different policies towards clients depending on the commercial views of its regional marketing managers.

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