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5 ways to increase the sales of a paper magazine

Luca Filigheddu

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Although the future of publishing is almost certainly digital, right now many publications still feel the need (or want) to produce paper editions, so it makes sense to keep sales as high as possible. With that in mind, here is a list of 5 ways to increase the sales of a paper magazine.


Push to Convert “Single-Issue” Buyers into Subscribers

There are lots of ways to encourage single-issue buyers to become subscribers and many of them can be used concurrently. One typical approach is to offer a discount on the cover price, in fact, you can even stagger the discount depending on the length of the subscription (three, six and twelve months are all popular options).

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Another is to offer a welcome gift to new subscribers or the first X number of new subscribers or to run a competition for new subscribers only. Again, the value of the gift can be increased depending on the length of the subscription. Traditionally, such gifts have only been offered to new subscribers, the assumption being that people would just continue with their subscription, but it’s becoming increasingly important to show existing customers that they are valued, so it may be reasonable to offer a “welcome-back” gift to renewing subscribers.

Another great option is to offer subscriber-only offers and content. You can be quite open about the offers since you can check subscriber details before actioning them, and publicising them in the main magazine lets non-subscribers see what they’re missing. For content, you can put teasers in the main magazine and provide the content either online (password protected) or in a supplement.

Focus on Being “Best in Breed”

For most people magazines are an affordable, but not necessary, purchase. This means that, generally, the way to increase the sales of a paper magazine is to focus less on price and more on value. First and foremost, readers want engaging content and they also want original content from recognised authorities rather than cheap rehashes of what’s on the internet. In other words, while there are ways to cut the production costs of magazines, skimping on content creation is just false economy.

While content is the foundation of any successful magazine, you should always be alert to any and all other options for increasing the value you offer to your readers. In fact, be prepared to reach out to anyone and everyone who may be able to help you with this. In particular, look for non-competing companies who work in the same market and see what you can do to promote each other’s products and services.

Remember that these days even those who like their magazines on paper often have social media accounts as well, so make sure you’re on at least one of the major platforms and make sure your content is a credit to your publication, because you’ll be judged on it.

Curate a Quality E-Mail Newsletter


The concept of “try before you buy” is well understood in retail and the basic principle applies just as well to magazine publishing. With the possible exception of a few trade publications, magazines are discretionary purchases and right now many people are watching their finances.

An e-mail newsletter intended to increase the sales of a paper magazine needs to be a mixture of show and tell or tease. There needs to be some appreciable percentage of public content given away for free to encourage people to read it, but there also needs to be teasers for content which is only available in the magazine and possibly even content which is only available to subscribers. Your goals are:

  1. to encourage people sitting on the fence to pick up a single-issue of your magazine;
  2. to encourage those who already buy occasional single issues to buy more frequently to the point where subscription makes sense;
  3. to keep developing a sense of community with those who are already engaged with you.

Ideally, your newsletter should also motivate people to share content with their friends and help to expand your e-mail subscription list and social media following, thereby providing further sales opportunities.

To start you off, one idea you can implement is the “course-style” newsletter. Basically, you offer a set of daily or weekly emails for a period of time that gives them educational material on a particular topic of interest to them. For example, you can name it X Magazine’s 5 Week Mediterranean Recipe Email Course.

This is attractive for the readers because they know that after a certain point, they won’t have to receive any more emails, if they don’t want to, so it’s low commitment and they get free valuable material. For you, you just have to set it up with your marketing automation tool, write the chain of emails in advance and promote it in your website. In the end you get a bunch of potential subscribers.

Survey your Readership
The people who are best-placed to tell you what your readers want are your readers themselves. In the old days, surveying your readership was a cumbersome and potentially expensive affair, involving paper forms and/or telephone calls.

These days, online surveys are quick and convenient for both the surveying publication and the readership alike. Of course, people are busy, so it can help to provide some motivation for them to complete the survey. The standard approach to this is to allow people to leave their e-mails at the end of the survey, if they wish, so that they can be entered into a prize draw. This has to be optional as it is important for respondents to be able to stay anonymous if they choose.

While this may sound like stating the obvious, once you have the feedback, act on it and if you do choose to make any changes based on the survey results then publicise it so that people know that you are listening to them and taking their opinions on board.

Ideally, reader surveys should be undertaken regularly, so that you always stay on the right track, but there needs to be enough time between them to avoid annoying your readership and to allow any changes made to have an effect. Once a year is probably a good frequency for most publications.

Keep on Top of your Cover

Paperlit and Forbes

Ignore the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” because that’s exactly what people do and they do it with magazines, too. The current challenge in the production of paper magazines is that these days there is a variety of ways in which they can be displayed. They can be stacked vertically  so that the top third of the cover is all a reader will usually see, they can be stacked along a shelf so that the reader sees the full length of the cover but only part of the width (usually about a third) – or they may be stacked on top of each other in bins so that the reader either sees the whole cover (from the top) or the side.

An effective cover will be engaging regardless of how it is seen. Another key point to note is that accessibility can increase sales. In this context, accessibility means not how easy the magazine is to reach in the store (over which you may have little control) but how easy it is for anyone to digest the contents on the cover, even if their eyesight is less than perfect. Think about how many people wear glasses and for how many different reasons and ask yourself if your cover can sell to them. It needs to.

Creating an accessible cover can be as simple as swapping out fancier fonts for simpler ones and ensuring that there’s plenty of contrast between any lettering and the background (and that the lettering is large enough for anyone to read with comfort). This is one small and affordable change which could really help to increase the sales of a paper magazine.


Offering a digital issue and play around with subscription packages

You might ask, how does offering a digital issue increase the sales of my print magazine? Well, the key really lies in the subscription packages.

The Economist, one of the most well-known publications that have also found success by offering digital publications, offers its readers online limited access to a few articles per month. After the limit is reached, they block access and encourage them to subscribe. Now this is where it gets interesting. They provide a digital only subscription, a print only subscription, and a combined print and digital subscription. Purchasing the digital and print subscriptions separately is more expensive so many will be encouraged to get both print and digital package.

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