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Mobile breathes new life into publishers' revenue stream

Mobile can streamline the process of subscribing to a magazine or newspaper, making it one one of the biggest drivers of new revenues for publishers this year. However, publishers should take note that mobile also makes cancelling a subscription that much easier.

By now, most big publishers are offering digital versions of their publications on tablets and smartphones, and many are beginning to utilize the medium to streamline the subscription process as well. However, the easy access that mobile provides for opting into a digital publication also works the other way in letting readers easily opt out.

?I think we?re learning an awful lot about how to drive subscriptions in a mobile environment,? said Gregg Hano, CEO of MagPlus, New York.

?In the long run I think it will be somewhat easier because you?ll have that one-click-to-buy option, and it may end up being somewhat less expensive because if you can identify someone with an interest in the subject area and get them to subscribe quickly, you don?t necessarily have all of the direct mail costs or renewal expenses,? he said.

?But the converse to that is it?s also going to be easier for subscribers to cancel if they don?t actually like the product, or not renew is probably a better way to put it.?

Opening new doors
On the positive side, mobile has definitely opened up new possibilities for publishers.

Mobile publications offer room for added features and behind-the-scenes videos, pictures and commentary. Instead of simply replicating a print magazine in digital form, publishers should create a tailored experience that takes advantage of what mobile has to offer.

For example, The Atlantic takes trending information from its Web site and pushes out a weekly digital issue that compiles the highlights.

One of the biggest effects of mobile on publishing is that it streamlines the subscription process.

Before mobile and digital, readers had to mail in a form to subscribe to a publication. Now, readers can subscribe with one click and start reading immediately.

This also means that readers can unsubscribe with one click, but this should encourage publishers to create even better mobile experiences to deter unsubscription.

?The communication between content owner and consumer is going to need to be that much greater, and if we give the consumers more content in forms that they want in the way that they want, they?re going to be part of the community, and they?re going to continue to pay for the content that editorial teams are putting out,? Mr. Hano said.

Mobile preview
Mobile can also allow readers to get a taste of a publication before committing to a subscription.

For example, the magazine Popular Science lets readers explore a compiled issue of the magazine before deciding whether or not to subscribe.

Additionally, once consumers download a publisher?s mobile application, publishers can send in-app messages and push notifications to drive subscriptions.

According to Gordon Crovitz, co-founder of Press+, New York, mobile and digital subscriptions are one of the biggest drivers of new revenues for publishers this year.

?For the 450 publishers around the world using Press+ software to power their digital subscriptions, ?all-digital access? subscriptions have proven to be the most popular offer for consumers,? he said.

All digital access subscriptions mean that a reader has full access to a publisher?s offerings, including Web sites and apps across platforms.

Mr. Crovitz also mentioned that many publishers are using a freemium model as well. This lets readers look at a certain number of articles per month for free before being asked to subscribe.

Like a compiled issue, this lets readers try out a publication before committing.

Mobile drive
A number of publishers have been driving mobile subscriptions with creative offers and tactics.

For example, Hearst offered $10 to iTunes when a reader subscribed to the tablet version of its magazine, including Seventeen Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Country Living.

Women?s Health used QR codes in its magazine to subtly hint at subscriptions. Readers could scan the QR code to receive a free gift, but at the bottom of the form there is an option to add Women?s Health Magazine to the order.

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal also leveraged mobile to drive subscriptions. The publisher ran a mobile campaign within the Pandora iPhone app to target students (see story).

According to George Linardos, senior vice president of digital marketing & business development at Time Inc., New York, mobile offers are not necessarily going to make or break subscription models.

?Within a digital channel selling a digital product, the experience is really the driver of the conversion of the user, meaning because you can take them through a flow because you can let them sample content,? he said. ?If we?re really great at that, that?ll allow the largest number of people to convert more so than being in these channels and looking at offers, though I don?t want to downplay offer, I think from our standpoint experience is the most important driver.?

Digital publishers
Whether or not publishers use mobile advertising to drive subscriptions, it is clear that publishers need to be embracing mobile in terms of the way they present their content in the first place.

Publishers such as Meredith, Rodale and Time Inc. are all mobilizing their publications for mobile Web sites and apps. They realize that their readers want to access content on the go and are catering to their desires.

For example, a large section of Meredith?s target audience is millennial moms and younger women who often need to fit in their reading into a busy day. Health and fitness publisher Rodale also caters to a typically on-the-go audience, since their readers tend to read the publication on their mobile devices while at the gym.

Time Inc. also incorporates mobile into all of its publications.

According to Time?s Mr. Lindaros, more than 2.8 million authenticated users across the company?s brands use digital magazines.

?[Subscribers] desire to be able to experience content in a multiplatform kind of way,? Mr. Lindaros said. ?We?ve seen both through research and anecdotally as well through analytics that subscribers view the magazine in print and then another time in tablet and another time on phone; it just allows the flexibility of enjoying the content in whatever context they?re in.

?This is the year that tablets exceed PC shipments," he said. "Mobile shipments are crossing a billion phones worldwide this year.

"We haven?t seen a media platform of this sort of scale in history, so you can?t ignore it.? 

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York