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Best Practices for Managing Controlled Digital Edition Circulation

Knowing readers' preferences can help balance the digital-to-print sub ratio.



By Chandra Johnson-Greene
11/19/2009

For the past few years, b-to-b publishers have been using digital editions to supplement their print products for various reasons: to cater to their readers’ preferences, to cut printing and shipping costs, and to reach more international audiences. There’s a lot to consider, however, such as balancing the ratio between print and digital subscribers and navigating the audit process. Anne Drobish, associate audience development director, NewBay Media, shared a few best practices that her company uses to manage their controlled-circ digital editions.

Adjust your title’s print and digital circulation according to reader preferences.

Currently, 12 of NewBay Media’s 14 trade titles have free digital editions attached to them, plus two on the consumer side. Drobish, who handles the trade side, says that all customers have the option of receiving the digital version of the magazines they’re subscribed to (about 1/3 of its trade circ is digital), but depending on the preferences of the readers, the staff makes circulation adjustments periodically.

“Depending on the type of audience and the industry they’re in, some do prefer the digital format,” she added. “So as a result, we lowered the print circ of one of our titles and increased the digital circ. On the other hand, there have been titles where we hoped that the subscribers would have an interest in digital, but for whatever reason, they didn’t. So in terms of cost savings, we had to reduce that title’s digital circulation.”

Use demographics and job titles to determine what format subscribers will receive.

Looking at factors such as job title, industry and how long someone has been a subscriber can also be used to determine which customers will receive the digital edition and which will receive the print magazine, according to Drobish. “There are certain job titles out there that would be better served with a digital edition,” she said. “But it really depends on the publisher and the situation.”

If they haven’t notified you of their preference, Drobish said, presidents, CEOs and other C-level executives should be receiving the print magazine. But those customers who haven’t renewed in a year or who may fall outside of the title’s targeted industry will be better served with digital editions. “There will always be those that try to subscribe— students, consultants and others outside of they group your advertisers are trying to reach—but you may not want to deny them a copy if they want one,” she said. “Offering them the digital edition instead can be a good alternative.”

Stay on top of the ever-changing auditing rules.

Earlier this year, BPA Worldwide changed its digital circ auditing rules so that publishers are now able to convert their print customers to digital editions with the provisions that they notify the customers of the change and give them the ability to opt-out. (Publishers auditing their digital circ through ABC already had this advantage.) “It has definitely helped us in terms of now being able to have more flexibility in how requestors are viewed,” Drobish said. “There isn’t that line anymore, which is great because the print format really isn’t all that different. The only difference is how subscribers are receiving the product.”

The one rule change that is more confining, however, is that non-requested electronic circ has to be categorized as “non-qualified.” “If a publisher is using outside lists from an association, for example, they wouldn’t be able to report it as ‘qualified’ like they would if they were mailing a print magazine,” Drobish said. “It’s not an area that we’re looking into growing right now, but other publishers are.”

By Chandra Johnson-Greene
11/19/2009







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