Being mule-headed works for subscription renewals

May 1, 2015

By Ken Blum

Are too many of your subscribers riding off into the sunset, never to be renewed again?

Well, don’t just stand there sniffling into your hanky and waving goodbye. Get your lasso, and rope them back in. Keep ’em with you, where they doggone belong.

It’s much easier to bring back a subscriber who neglected to renew for whatever reason than it is to bring on a brand new subscriber.

Let me repeat.

It is much easier to bring back a subscriber who neglected to renew for whatever reason than it is to bring on a brand new subscriber.

So hold on to that subscriber like a rodeo cowpoke holds onto a raging bull. Be persistent. Be determined. Be stubborn as a mule. Be more stubborn than a mule. Be more stubborn than a herd of cranky mules.

Keep that subscriber!

Here is another analogy. Let’s say a business that has been advertising in every issue of the paper for several years stops running ads.

Would you be concerned? Would you call, or go see him?

I hope so.

The same reaction should apply to any subscriber who doesn’t renew. In this day and age of a zillion competitors for a reader’s time, each subscriber is a treasure, not from a revenue standpoint but because if you lose one, that’s one less person (really 2.5 persons) in your newspaper’s audience.

And your audience is your bread and butter. Be lackadaisical and sooner or later, what once was a packed house will be nearly empty. And so will the advertising and news content in your newspaper.

So what you need is a system to retain subscribers, and a person who runs that system.

Let’s take a look at components of that system.

1. Don’t wait until renewal time. Instead, run a “Subscriber Appreciation Month,” offering a reduced rate, bonus months, or a premium for any subscriber who renews early. Promote it with a full-page ad scheduled once a week throughout the month.

It’s a good idea to run the offer in a down month, such as January or February, when it will pump up revenue and cash flow. (If you would like a PDF example, just drop me an e-mail—

2. Carefully time a series of renewal notices.

A suggested schedule:

First notice—five weeks before expiration.

Second notice—four weeks later.

Four-week grace period after expiration. During this period, make one or two sales-oriented telephone calls seeking the renewal commitment and payment. The best time to call is early evening. If your employees can’t work this schedule, consider hiring a part-time employee or an independent contractor who can make the calls from his or her home during the evening.

Always try to obtain payment via a credit card. It may cost the company a buck or two, but it’s well worth it.

3. Still no luck? In the final issue, include a large reminder that this is THE FINAL ISSUE (see illustration). Include a form to mail with payment, or a phone number to call with payment. Again, accept any of the major credit cards.

4. If necessary (for a weekly), offer three- and six-month rates.

Some newspapers are getting pricy in an effort to maintain circulation revenue in the midst of declining circulation. Some weeklies are priced at $40 or more per year for a local subscription, and more weeklies are going beyond a dollar for a single copy. Some are up to $2.

A higher price, especially for subscriptions, will decrease circulation numbers. But for those on a tight budget, a three- or six-month rate may keep them on the subscription list.

A suggested formula:

Three months: divide the annual subscription rate by four; add 25 percent, and then round off to the next highest dollar.

For example—annual local rate of $40 divided by four = $10 x 125 percent = $12.50—round off to $13.

Six months: divide the annual subscription rate by two; add 15 percent, and then round off to the next highest dollar.

For example: annual local rate of $40 divided by two—$20 x 115 percent = $23.

5. Still no luck? Use direct mail to contact former subscribers.

Develop a “We Miss You” letter, and once a month, mail it to any former subscribers who stopped three months ago and still have not come back. Include a special offer like “14 months for the price of 12,” or something similar. Or, a premium works well: perhaps a trade with an advertiser—a book, a gift card, free pizza, a turkey around Thanksgiving. Be willing to offer an item that’s worth up to a third of the cost of the subscription.

Expect a 10 percent return rate, or even better.

6. Still no luck? For every subscriber, ask for an e-mail address. You can use it to send along breaking news, ad specials and, of course, offers here and there to come back on board as a subscriber.

7. Still no luck!!!????

Maybe it’s time to call your friend Vito. He’ll make the former subscriber an offer he can’t refuse. Vito doesn’t charge for this service, but keep in mind he may ask you to return a favor someday.

Aw, okay, maybe this is going too far. Let’s leave Vito out of it.

But the mule stays. © Ken Blum 2015


Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a monthly free e-mail newsletter titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail him at; or phone to 330-682-3416.

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