As the print ad market tightened up during the recession, publishers switched their customer-driven revenue strategies into overdrive. If the brand side couldn’t be counted on as a secure revenue bet, then there was only one other place to turn, basically—the readers. Paid content, membership models, fee-based content extensions, research subscriptions and any number of other ideas shifted from skunkwork projects to front-burner initiatives.

One of the more interesting has been sample box subscriptions—curating sample or full-sized products from marketing partners and suppliers and packaging them up in a smartly branded box available for a monthly, or quarterly, subscription fee. Not a concept for everyone, I know, but its ability to bridge the gap between buyer and seller—a proposition that the magazine model was founded on—is particularly obvious.

Plus, it leverages two important skills that publishers have in abundance, editorial market knowledge and subscription marketing. You could argue that product fulfillment is a pain point, but in the case of Sandow Media and its TestTube sample box, that operation was turned over to the fulfillment provider for its NewBeauty magazine.

While a program such as this could spawn major headaches for the editorial team—who would likely be bombarded by suppliers already clamoring for edit mentions—if it’s properly managed it could greatly benefit and even expand editorial influence. Likewise, marketing the sample boxes leverages very similar tools that circulators and audience developers use for the magazine itself.

The only hurdle, it seems, is determining whether your market has products your readers want to trial—that fit in a box.

Bill Mickey
Editorial Director