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Get the best rate on a magazine subscription

My nephew has been a loyal reader of his favourite sports magazine for the past eight years. Yet, every time his annual subscription comes up for renewal, he cancels it.

And every year, the magazine woos him back with free gifts and a great deal on his subscription rate.

Fortunately for the magazine industry, he's the exception, not the rule according to Dave Bergeman, consumer marketing director for The Atlantic Monthly. Subscribers like my nephew account for only 10 percent or less, he says.

"When readers really like a magazine, they are more likely to renew before the expiry, because the reality is it takes several weeks to process a new subscription. If the reader values getting it, they are not going to play that game (of cancelling) because then they will miss getting the magazine until the new issues start coming."

But clearly, my nephew is on to something, which begs the question -- what is the best way to get the lowest rate on a magazine subscription or renewal?

Best deals on first offers
In addition to cancelling altogether, some readers wait until close to the expiry date before renewing their subscriptions in pursuit of an offer they can't refuse. That's a practice that's changing in Canada, says Faith Drinnan, founder of Nova Scotia-based Oyster Group consultants and a teacher in Magazine Canada's industry circulation school.

"The decades' old model of advertiser-paid magazines is ending," she says. "I strongly believe that consumers need to pay more for quality magazines. It's the industry's fault that has trained subscribers to wait for the cheapest offer. That's changing in Canada, so that readers are going to get the best deal from the first price on offer."

Typically, magazines take a loss on bargain-basement offers to lure new subscribers, counting on ad revenue to make up the difference. But with the drain of advertising away from print media, that's becoming more of a problem for the industry.

Niche markets strong
Both the Canadian and U.S. magazine industries are experiencing strength in regional and special-interest categories because of their unique appeal that larger or general-interest publications can't match.

This appeal translates into reader loyalty. And that, say the experts, is a key factor in subscription rates.

"Rates differ by source of subscriber," says Bergeman. "For example, if a reader ordered a subscription from an insert form in a magazine they bought off the newsstand, this is a very determined customer who has gone to some trouble to seek us out. This reader would be charged a much higher renewal rate, and this group has a very high rate of renewal."

In contrast, he says, a reader who bought a subscription to support a fundraising project at her children's school has a low rate of loyalty to the magazine, thus a low renewal rate. In this case, the magazine makes minimal attempts to keep this group of subscribers.

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-- Posted Feb. 26, 2010
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