Subscriptions: Spreadsheet Fever Fuels the Magazine Model

July 9, 2020

Nothing is easier. Plug in a series of four numbers, highlight the cells, and drag the little black box. Excel spits out the “projected next number.” Magic.

Think about this. Mail out 10 million snail mail pitches for a year’s subscription to a jazzy magazine, maybe Psychology Today or something similar. Fire up the spreadsheet, plug in the estimated number of sign ups, and project how much money will flow into the coffers of the magazine publisher or the third party handling the campaign from an office in Hoboken.

Subscriptions are the “next big thing” for many businesses. Here in rural Kentucky, our single car wash sells a “subscription.” The idea is that the car wash gets upfront money, and the lucky buyer can drive in one every two weeks and get the horse and buggy hosed down. Working good? Not so much.

BMW is selling subscriptions to features like heated steering wheels. Tesla, the auto company owned by Joe Rogan star, Elon Musk has subscriptions on its radar too.

Twitter, according to Bloomberg, the socially positive and continually uplifting information service, may be going to a subscription model. The DarkCyber research team has long considered Twitter a very useful tool for misinformation, disinformation, and reformation. Asking “fake personas” to pay for the service may work. On the other hand, industrious individuals may find the steady stream of innovations in encrypted messaging apps a possible complement. But look at those Excel projections. Imagine a 1,000,000 subscribers at $10 US a month. Wow, drag those tiny black squares. Count your bonus now.

The Quibi short form video service is subscription based. No one on the DarkCyber team has downloaded the app nor peered over someone’s shoulder while social distancing outside the general store in our small town. (It is near the vacant subscription car wash.)

According to a possibly specious, wildly incorrect, and statistically flawed report, Quibi’s subscription model is not selling like Rona N95 masks. The rock solid “real” news outfit Verge published “Quibi Reportedly Lost 90 Percent of Early Users after Their Free Trials Expired.”

The marketing technique implemented get six issues free and then pay only $10 US a month approach. How are magazines doing these days? Yep, stunning business.

The write up recycles data from a “research firm” named Sensor Tower and reports:

Streaming service Quibi only managed to convert a little under 10 percent of its early wave of users into paying subscribers, says mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower. According to the firm’s new report on Quibi’s early growth, the short-form video platform signed up about 910,000 users in its first few days back in April. Of those users, only about 72,000 stuck around after the three-month free trial, indicating the app had about an 8 percent conversion rate.

Short form video content is available mostly for free. Ever hear of Funimate?

Let’s step back. Advertising online is a monopoly game with two outstanding firms managing the dice, the money, and the cute little tokens. Direct mail is more expensive. With creative, list rentals, and fulfillment house fees, figure $5 to $7 per envelope delivered by snail mail. The promo can be cheaper if you go with a single “please, subscribe” flier in a ValPak envelope. Inserts in a daily newspaper. Okay, that’s a great idea. Door knob hanging? Nope. Banner ads on the Adf.ly network. Yeah, maybe?

Subscription plays are looking good when viewed through the blood shot eyes of someone with spreadsheet fever.

Reality may be different. Even National Geographic is a non profit. Hey, there’s an idea for BMW, Twitter, and Quibi. When this bout of spreadsheet fever winds down, consider the benefits of becoming a non governmental organization: Donations, fund raisers, merchandise, and more.

Stephen E Arnold, July 9, 2020

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