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Low cost online audience development June 18, 2007

Posted by Bernard Lunn in B2B Media.

There has been talk in American Business Media circulation circles about “Zero Cost Audience Development”. This seems to mean online registration, which is at least free once R&D, traffic generation and infrastructure has been paid for. As R&D/traffic/infrastructure is not in fact a minor cost, in practice circulation managers pay subscriber agents and other third parties who have figured out how to do this. That is still less than paying for telemarketing, but the results to date indicate that telemarketing is growing as a source of subscribers and that therefore efforts to get subscribers online, while showing promise, are not delivering the volumes.

There are two ways to get more online registration and neither is easy:

  1. Make it easier when the reader is on your site.
  2. Get more readers on other sites who might be interested in your title.

Most publishers like to think that their online registration is easy enough. However in too many cases this is all too common:

  1. I register for one webinar. I then try for another webinar. Does it have my details? Nope.
  2. So I see Register with Publisher. I do that. Yet another form. Does it recognize me? Nope.
  3. It then asks me if I want XYZ mag. I say yes and get into the qualification form. Does it recognize me from 1 or 2? Nope.
  4. It then asks if I want ABC mag. Most of the form is the same as for XYZ. Is anything pre-populated? Nope

(This is a real example, I kept it anonymous to save embarrassment).

The ideal system enables “speed dating to a relationship”, getting whatever little bits of data somebody is willing to volunteer at the time, always building the profile and never asking for redundant information and always prompting for an intelligent cross sell.

It seems odd that this should be hard to do right. We are used to sites like Amazon that have been doing this right for ages. I think it is hard for publishers because it involves integrating technology, data and processes across multiple channels and that involves getting multiple profit centers to align to a common objective and that is always hard. (This is very different from an audience “data warehouse” that sits within the organization but is not connected online, real time to what readers are doing online).

The next challenge is getting more readers from other sites to subscribe. There are two basic techniques that work:

  1. Search Engine Marketing (SEM). In effect, getting traffic from Google. Theoretically we can also put Search Engine Optimization (SEO) into this category, but that is more to do with driving traffic to your site generally and cannot be fine tuned enough (as far as I am aware) to be a useful, scalable tool for subscriber acquisition. SEM is a very precise tool in the right hands and with the right tools. I don’t know of any publisher getting any subscriber volume from SEM, but it is theoretically possible. It is definitely not Zero Cost, as you pay Google for the relevant Adwords. The question is can you create the landing page to registration process in a way that generates a high enough conversion to make the numbers work right? Lets say you target $2 per Subscriber. If you get 10% click to conversion, you cannot pay more than $0.20 per click. If you can get that up to 25%, you can pay as high as $0.50 per click (or if you can get the click for $0.10 you get a cost per subscriber of only $0.40). What this does not factor in is the cost to manage this whole process. Don’t believe any purveyor of “magic sauce” for SEM. It simply takes a lot of testing, analysis, landing page design and other labor-intensive work and there are not that many people who know how to do this well.
  2. Affiliate Marketing. This is what companies like Commission Junction offer. In the controlled circulation world this is offered by specialists such as FreeBizMag, TradePub and Mecury Magazines. They do the heavy lifting of building affiliate networks (which is rather like SEM, a well-understood technique that is also labor intensive). This can be bi-directional, which has been called Co-Registration. I have seldom seen these “lets all cooperate” type deals work in practice. You still need your own affiliate program and you can pay another publisher through their affiliate program and if that nets out its OK.

Is there a way for publishers do this directly within their own infrastructure? Possibly, once the first step – the integrated online audience database – is in place. Then it would be possible to put on a Web Services interface and then add Widgets that can be syndicated out across the Web. This has broader implications than simply subscriber acquisition. Random House has an interesting widget syndication strategy that may point the way for other publishers.



1. schwinn140 - June 19, 2007

Great post Bernard!

Just stopping over to thank you for the mention and to offer a comment.

I’d like offer my take on whether “publishers can do this directly within their own infrastructure?”

Publishers can easily explore SEM and Organic SEO today via internal resources or simple outsourcing to a specialist. There are literally zero barriers to entry other than time, patience, and budget.

The Affiliate Marketing model is something quite different on the other hand. It’s not whether they can do it own with their current infrastructure…the technology is not the challenge. Adoption of the program is the challenge. Without an extremely diverse selection of content/offers, website publishers will be forced to look elsewhere. It’s not often that you find sites promoting Pots from one affiliate program and pans from another. The site publisher will simply go to someone like Amazon or Ebay that offers those items and much more.

Just my 2 cents…


David Fortino

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