What premiums work best in newsletter subscription marketing?


By Robert W. Bly


            Offering one or more premiums is a standard ploy in direct mail used to sell newsletter subscriptions. But what premiums work best? What are your choices? This article presents a round-up of what’s working in newsletter premiums today.

Print premiums

            Most premiums for newsletter subscription marketing are print products -- typically special reports:

            The super-premium. A super-premium is a special report that delivers all or most of the information, secrets, or strategies promised in the mailing piece. Example: A magalog for Weiss’s Safe Money Report offers a super-premium, “Grow Up to 1,000% Richer in the Great Stock Market Panic of 2002,” that delivers on the big promise of the mailing. The offer of the super-premium is made on just about every other page of the 24-page magalog.

The owner’s manual. An owner’s manual advises the subscriber how to use the service for maximum results and benefits. An options trading course, for instance, will typically have a premium explaining terms (e.g., “puts” vs. “calls”) and the types of trades the service makes (e.g., “straddles”).

            The vertical premium. A vertical premium is a report covering in depth one specific area the newsletter deals with rather than the bigger picture. A newsletter on Information Technology, for instance, might have a special report on supply chain management (SCM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP).

            The resource guide. A resource guide is a mini-directory of  vendors, suppliers, associations, Web sites, and other resources of interest to the newsletter’s target audience. Be sure to include addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and Web URLs for listed resources.

Surveys. The results of subscriber surveys are of great interest to potential subscribers. When Hospital Admitting Monthly added the offer of a salary survey premium, response to its control jumped 50%.

“Best of’s.” If you have a regular column that is highly popular with subscribers, collect a dozen of them or so in a “best of” premium. Newsletters covering regulatory or legal issues have done this with monthly columns on court cases and their outcomes (e.g., “The Best of ‘You Be the Judge’”).

The editor’s magnum opus. Be careful of offering a book by the editor as a premium, especially if the book is a best-seller or the newsletter is expensive. If the book is a best-seller, many potential subscribers will already own it. If the newsletter is expensive, you’re better off offering a premium with a higher perceived value than a book.

Online premiums

            You may already offer your subscribers information online. Consider positioning some of these online services as premiums:

E-zines. If you send weekly e-mail updates between monthly print issues, talk about the “free e-zine” they get as a bonus for subscribing.

            E-Alerts. Some newsletters offer periodic, unscheduled e-mails when there is important news or instructions that cannot wait for the next print issue or e-zine. If you do this, position it as a value-added premium service.

            Online archives. Access to your password-protected subscribers-only Web site is a bonus for subscribers to your print or online newsletter. One feature subscribers look for is an online archive of back issues. If they are searchable by key word, even better.

            Forums and chat groups. Hosting a forum, chat group, or other online community where subscribers can network and share best practices is another nice little online extra. Reading the postings is also great research for your marketing and editorial people.

Other premiums

            Here in no particular order are some other premiums newsletter publishers have used with varying degrees of success:

            Telephone hotlines. Many monthly newsletters offer subscribers a telephone hotline they can call to hear current news and advice; such hotlines are typically updated weekly.           

Conference invitations. You can offer potential subscribers invitations to exclusive conferences, workshops, and seminars. They should get these invitations early, before the general public, and a subscriber’s discount on the registration fee wouldn’t hurt either.

            Transcripts. Transcripts of conferences, seminars, speeches, lectures, even TV or radio appearances by the editor can make attractive premiums.

            Audio and video tapes. You can tape your editorial staff when they give presentations and offer audios or videos as premiums. Videos have a higher perceived value. I prefer audiotapes because busy people can listen to them in the car.

CD-ROMs. A CD-ROM can present multimedia material that’s difficult to reprint in a printed report. The CD-ROM that comes with my book Public Relations Kit for Dummies, for example, includes samples of video news conferences.

            Software. At least one financial newsletter I’ve seen recently includes trading software as a premium for new subscribers. Software has high perceived value. Is there a simple spreadsheet, such as a cost calculator, you can put on a disk or CD-ROM and offer as a premium?

            3-ring binders. For a newsletter that has lasting shelf value as a reference, you can offer a free 3-ring binder the subscriber can use to store all his issues in one convenient location.

            Merchandise. Merchandise, a common premium for magazine subscriptions, is seldom used in newsletter promotions. There are rare exceptions. Release 1.0, a technology newsletter aimed at high-level decision-making executives, offers a Release 1.0 baseball cap as a “payment with order” premium.

            Are you using a premium, with success, that I haven’t listed here? Please share it with me so I can share it with your fellow Subscription Marketing subscribers. E-mail the premium to me at rwbly@bly.com. Or mail it to Bob Bly, 22 E. Quackenbush Avenue, Dumont, NJ 07628, along with your take on how well it’s working and why you chose it. Thanks!

                Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books). He can be reached at 201-385-1220 or at rwbly@bly.com.