Subs Deals – What are we playing at?
I’m going to be very honest here. What you are about to read contains references to making money – apologies to any who find that offensive. Also, this is quite long so again apologies to all who may be offended by that.
We’ve offered new subscriber gifts and deals ever since we started publishing Singletrack almost 12 years ago. Back then if you subscribed before our 6th April publication date for issue 1 then we added an extra issue on to your annual subscription. Those early adopters got 5 issue of Singletrack for the price of 4. Of course the point of that was to encourage as many people to subscribe BEFORE we went to print so we could actually afford to go to print in the first place. Thankfully, it worked (of a fashion) and it kick started both the mag, the website and all the digital extras that we now offer all our subscribers and readers.
Of course if you subscribed on the 7th April you got the standard subscription of 4 issues/year. From the beginning we received emails and phone calls from people suggesting that since they were only a day or two (months in some cases) late could we pretty please give them the same deal. We may have allowed a few days grace but if we didn’t draw the line and say no at some point we may as well have just offered up a 5 issue subscription from the start – and then what would have been the incentive to subscribe before the print deadline?
Deals work because not everyone gets them – that’s the point.
We need to offer deals to get people to subscribe because people (including us) feel the need to somehow lessen the risk before we jump into any commitment. A gift gives us the psychological get out clause that if we don’t like the product ‘at least we got a t-shirt’.
Or something like that. Anyway, the point is that it tips the balance in our favour for all those potential subscribers who have been wavering on the edge of jumping in with us.
And we really need them to.
Back in February we announced that we were going to do things a bit different. We relaunched as a fatter, better designed more subscriber friendly printed mag. We went back to our early roots and started picking cover pictures that we thought were awesome because of the quality and inspiring nature of the image. No more did we have to weigh up the likely impact of the image on the shelf of a newsagents first. No more trying to think up clever, psychological and subliminal marketing cover lines in order to try and outsell every other clone like cycling mag racked up alongside us on the shelves of supermarkets and newsagents. Singletrack, we felt, was better when it was designed for our subscribers and not the casual browser pushing a trolley full of this week’s shopping.
We were, of course, also guided to this decision by the simple fact the newsagents model of selling magazines is pretty much dead on its feet. It always pissed me off in the extreme with its fake Sale Or Return financial model that neither helped us gain more sales or in fact returned anything that wasn’t sold. It is an archaic and deeply wasteful business model that serves everyone along the overly long distribution chain except the environment and us, the publisher.
The new Singletrack is our attempt at adapting to the current publishing revolution as best we can and in a way that still sits well with our original aims. We could have gone the more common route amongst publishers and started printing the mag on bog paper with fewer pages to keep costs and waste down – we could also have tried to play the traditional retail pissing contest of offering endless supplies of cover mounted crap to try and temporarily prop up cover sales, but the trouble with that is that those gifts come at a price and since efficiencies in the newstrade wobble around the 50% level it would mean half of all those freebies would end up in a skip (bear that in mind next time you buy a copy of WhateverMag with its ‘cool’ bottle opener made mostly of soft). That level of waste and expenses is exactly what we are trying to escape from.
And so our answer is to focus on the one area of our sales that is 100% efficient – Subscriptions.
To make up for the losses and stunning waste in the high street we are trying to cram as much value into our subscriptions as it is possible to do. The future of Singletrack lies with our subscribers and this is why we are from now on going to be offering up some kind of new subscriber extra gift to all who join us. The default gift is pretty much always one of our t-shirts. We can get them made in large quantities, they stack nicely on shelves, are light enough to post cheaply and hence are affordable to give away. They have a high perceived value and are genuinely good quality (Guildan Heavy Weight Cotton for all T-shirt experts – There are better t-shirts out there but there are much worse too). It’s all about trying to striking that balance between quality and value.
I’m always on the lookout for new freebies to offer up to new subscribers, so from time to time we’ll do a deal with some manufacturer or other where they supply us with umpteen widgets in return for some PR exposure or ad deal on our site and we’ll then have a stock of new fancies that we can pass on to new subscribers – It works for everyone.
That’s the game we are in. We want to be a conduit for deals that we can pass on to our subscribers. That attracts more subscribers and we get to keep publishing the mag and the website and the world keeps turning.
Ads fit in there too, but here’s the thing with ads – they are hugely unpredictable. I don’t mean individual ads themselves, rather the advertising market itself. Over the summer we lost some key advertising campaigns on our website and the mag because the weather has been so bad that brand x hadn’t sold as much as it had planned to and so the ad budget had to be slashed to save costs. That was neither their, or our, fault and yet something as unpredictable and uncontrollable as weather had a real and expensive impact on our business and that affects our ability to do things like go to Interbike and report on the new stuff for our readers.
I don’t like being in a business where a large proportion of our livelihoods depend on factors beyond our control – the performance of the advertising market is one of them. I want to be able to plan ahead on the basis of the quality of the product we make. If we make Singletrack the best it can be then we will likely be rewarded with many more readers and subscribers. And so it is this principal that is driving us to rebalance the way we earn our money. We want more of the financial results to be dependent on the factors within our control rather than those that are not. The newstrade and the performance of the retail high street is not ours to control. The size of budgets of agencies and distributors in the advertising market is not within our control. The quality of Singletrack from the paper stock it is printed on to the images and copy within it ARE under our control. The deals we offer our subscribers and the way we try to encourage them to have enough faith in us for a year to pay in advance for what we do IS under our control.
This is why everything we are currently doing is designed to add value and benefit to our subscriptions packages. From the Premier-only stories on our site to the Tuesday Treats competitions. Once you are a subscriber we do everything we can to try to keep you subscribing. Our mag archive grows bigger with every issue. Our app is shortly to be opened up to all existing subscribers so you can access our soon-to-be custom tablet issue of Singletrack on whatever device you currently own. Our subscription base is growing, but it needs to grow more. We need to add more value to our subs packages and we need to spread the word. This is why we will be sending out a gift card in every subscriber issue of 77 that you can give to a friend. That card will give them access to all our Premier extras and the mag archive until the end of November. We then hope that when the access stops they will consider it worth subscribing. If they do then you, the voucher giver, will be rewarded by us for bringing us a new subscriber with a cheaper renewal price.
This is what we are all about at Singletrack. We are about trying to run a business that we all love passionately. We are exceptionally lucky to be able to do this and have it pay our bills. It’s my dream job and I know for many more who work here it is for them too. We want to keep doing this for as long as we can, as ethically as we can, as efficiently as we can.
And that is why, if you cancel your sub, wait three months and then come back in order to get another free t-shirt out of us we will raise our eyes to the ceiling and sigh a bit. Offers will come and they will go. Some will be lucky and some will miss out. This is not because we don’t like you, it’s just the way it has to be. But rest assured we will always try to make you feel that the money you hand over to us every year is more than worth it. We won’t always succeed but we aim to win a lot more than we lose.
Coming soon for subscribers….
- Searchable, device-adaptable online database of every article and feature we have ever published.
- The long awaited linkup between our Premier subscriptions and the iOS mag app.
- Other stuff as and when we think of it to add extra value to our subscriptions packages.
- A members’ card for subscribers that arrives on time (it’s harder than it looks)
- More opportunities to use that card in lots of shops for all kinds of things.
Posted on: October 2, 2012 by Mark