Targeting subscribers in the fight for readers

With competition among newspapers hotting up, are subscription drives the way to increase readership, asks Tim Addington

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By  Tim Addington Published  June 18, 2006

Targeting subscribers in the fight for readers|~|papers200.jpg|~|Competition... newspapers such as Al Hayat have undertaken subscription drives|~|Attracting and retaining readers is a perennial battle for newspaper proprietors who seek to increase advertising revenues on the back of higher circulation and readership numbers. With more than 100 paid for daily newspapers published across the region, and more titles launching on a monthly basis, the struggle to attract new eyeballs is leading some proprietors to become more imaginative in the ways they secure new readers and, more importantly, hold on to them. As reported in Campaign last week, pan-Arab daily Al Hayat has launched a major subscription drive in Saudi Arabia in the hope that it will add an extra 50,000 home subscribers. The newspaper has partnered with Motorola to offer new converts a free mobile telephone as well as the chance to win thousands of dollars and one of 12 Infiniti cars. Subscriptions drives are not new. Many newspapers in the region have mounted such promotions with varying degrees of success. But what are the benefits to a newspaper of getting readers to sign up for six months or a year, as opposed to relying on news stand sales? Marwan Dimas, general manager at Al Wataniya, which manages the sales and marketing for Al Hayat, argues that newspapers have to be cleverer in the way they target potential new readers. “With the large penetration of daily newspapers, it is hard to compete in the conventional way,” he says. “Home subscribers are different from any other readership. There is a very big difference in loyalty in home subscription. There is more intimacy with the reader and it creates a longer-term brand relationship.” Ayad Tassabehji, general manager at Lebanon’s English-language paper the Daily Star, says newspaper subscriptions offer publishers value in more ways than simply increasing numbers on a circulation report. “There is a circulation and an advertising value. Both values and amounts go up because you are adding ‘known’ readers with detailed personal data. Advertisers like that. It helps them with selected targeting exercises and circulation managers love it because this increases their sales figures and boost their cash flow.” Duleep George, sales and marketing director at Dubai-based English daily Gulf News, says subscribers become more loyal to the newspaper than people who purchase copies from newsstands. “Subscription drives help to build the reader base, they retain readers, reducing the amount of churn, and over a period of time they help to build brand loyalty. In the last two years, we have virtually doubled our subscriber base,” he says. Jordan’s Arabic language daily Al Ghad newspaper, published by the Jordan United Press Company, mounted an extensive subscription drive when it launched two years ago. The company offered heavily discounted year-long subscriptions and claims that 70% of the 55,000 copies it prints each day are now subscription copies. But Mohamed Alayyan, publisher and chairman at Al Ghad, warns that the product has to be right for a subscription drive to work. “You have to keep in mind that you have to have a good product regardless of what promotion you do and regardless of the value addition you try and do,” he says. “When we launched Al Ghad we did an extensive study of the market. Most other newspapers did not focus on subscriptions at all. We came in and positioned ourselves as the independent newspaper of Jordan and gave value added services to the reader. We were shortening the period of our reach because we needed to reach people quickly. You use subscriptions at launch so you can guarantee a minimum subscription base, so it is worthwhile for advertisers to advertise with you.” Often subscription offers such as that carried out by Al Hayat come with extravagant gifts such as watches and vouchers that cost more than the actual yearly cover price of the paper. Alayyan warns that gifts given in conjunction with subscriptions can be a double-edged sword. “People get hooked on giveaways and promos. But you have to make sure that you don’t cheapen your product by using them too often and where they may not be appropriate.” According to George, while subscription promotions can be expensive, the long-term financial results far outweigh the costs. “They are expensive, however advertising revenues more than justify the costs. Advertisers prefer a newspaper with a high subscription base as it is a sign of stability and growth and shows confidence in the reach offered,” he says. For Tassabehji the cost of subscription drives makes sense. “Newspaper can afford to mount offers because extra revenues gained from advertising will be large enough to cover the cost, the extra revenues from the extra subscriptions sold will improve the company’s cash flow and it is an effective way to promote the brand to a select audience.” From an advertiser’s perspective, subscription readers enable them to build a longer lasting relationship with consumers. Tarek Daouk, managing director at Starcom Dubai, says: “People who buy from newsstands can be one-off buyers and they are often not likely to be highly involved in the newspaper. Usually media campaigns span over a period of time, as you need frequency to build awareness. Subscribers are loyal and highly engaged with the newspaper.” And he adds: “If you have been reading the same newspaper for six months you rarely change to another.” Subscribers are clearly important to newspapers; they help take away the uncertainty of relying on newsstand sales and reassure advertisers their messages are reaching the target audience. As the push for circulation audits becomes more aggressive and big spending advertisers potentially pull money from titles that do not provide independently audited figures, subs drives could become more commonplace across the region.||**||

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