Want to hear someone get excited about a database? (Yes, a database.) Here’s Heather Holmes marveling over the master file she oversees at Technology Review.

“I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to talk about our new spiffy database,” she says. “We’re still building it, but I’m delighted to sing its praises based on Phase I.”

Why all the love? For the first time, Technology Review has a gigantic, unified, real-time database the company employs for e-commerce transactions, market analysis, content creation, newsletter creation, Webinars and RSS feeds among other uses, says Holmes, who serves as senior vice president of audience development.

Across the industry, publishers increasingly are selling across many different products and channels, including print, digital, events and research. Technology Review’s early success with its new database may provide a case study for other publishers as they, too, move to build master files.

Until October 2010, when Technology Review launched its database, the magazine was pulling data from multiple sources: newsletter lists, events lists, international partners, content databases, newsletter databases, RSS feeds, a Webinar database, and others. Some of the databases were housed at Technology Review’s office in Cambridge, others at the magazine’s fulfillment provider in California. And none of those databases was connected.

Requirements for a Single Database

About a year ago, Technology Review began discussions with ESP Computer Systems in North Hollywood, Calif., a fulfillment company already hosting some of Technology Review’s systems and databases.

Together, the two companies created requirements for the project. They had to devise a system that would allow Technology Review to use a single database for its Web site paywall strategy, events sign-ups, products, subscriptions and security maintenance. “There are a lot of moving parts and a tremendous amount of data whizzing back and forth,” says Holmes. “The customer has no idea the data is flying across the country.”

Maintaining the platform requires careful coordination. Holmes said she has monitoring in place so that if Technology Review’s systems go down, or if ESP’s systems go down, there is a Plan B.

“It’s centralized and real-time,” Holmes said. “We truly use that one database for everything from database transactions to market analysis.”

The database offered an almost immediate financial pay-off. “This is tremendously helpful to our bottom line,” she says. “I can instantly go online and do queries and cross-hatch reports that tell me, for instance, how many of my newsletter subscribers don’t get the print magazine. Then I can immediately blast them a newsletter upsell.”

Before, Holmes said, she would have had to merge and purge several customer lists and databases—a process that would have taken three to four weeks of planning. “My time to market is now instant,” she said.

Digital Subscriptions Up 10 Percent

In October, the magazine moved 11 of its e-mail newsletters to the new database; in late November, the Web site registration process went live; and in December Holmes moved the event registration process to the new database.

Users can register online at technologyreview.com, subscribe, pay with a credit card, gain immediate access to its premium content—and appear in the database in mere seconds.

Digital subscriptions increased 10 percent in just the first two weeks of the paywall’s existence—the first time in the six years Holmes has worked at Technology Review that growth was noticeable in a short time period. “That was a statistic I got goosebumps over,” she says.

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