Everything needs a little sprucing up now and then—your wardrobe, your garage, your magazine. It’s easy to tell when your closet needs an update (nobody wears those shoulder pads anymore!) or your garage begs for a re-org (can’t get the car past the discarded exercise equipment?). But how do you know when your magazine needs an editorial overhaul? Here are six clear signals:
DROP IN RENEWALSA healthy renewal rate (the percentage of current subscribers who renew a subscription) is 60 percent or more. If yours has dropped significantly or is substantially below 60 percent, it’s time to worry. This is the strongest indicator that there’s something amiss editorially: The magazine isn’t covering what readers want, or readers aren’t happy with the magazine’s approach to its subjects.
DECLINE IN CONVERSIONSThe conversion rate is the percentage of people who renew after an introductory offer; 40 to 45 percent is considered good. The conversions that should most interest you, as an editor, are those from people who tore a subscription card out of the magazine and sent it in. These folks read or looked at the magazine before they decided to subscribe. So if you’re not holding on to them, it’s probably because they were ultimately disappointed by the editorial execution.
LISTLESS NEWSSTAND SALESSome magazines never do well on the newsstand, and even those that succeed often have wildly fluctuating sell-through. But if your newsstand sales show a steady and sizeable downward trend, it’s time to act. Specifically, this sign suggests that the magazine’s cover strategy-the image, layout, choice of subjects, and cover lines-isn’t connecting with potential readers.
FALLING ADSThe ad picture has been grim all around, and there can be many reasons for a decline in this area. What an editor should look for here is whether formerly loyal advertisers are migrating to the competition. If the magazine’s sales program seems on target, the problem might be the editorial identity: Advertisers may not be sure who the magazine appeals to.
LESS READER INVOLVEMENTYou should worry when readers’ letters and e-mails dry up to a trickle, when few respond to reader participation calls or surveys, when discussion boards lie fallow. It means the magazine is no longer connecting.
YOUR GUT SAYS SOMETHING’S WRONGAn editor can often sense that it’s time for a makeover, even before the numbers confirm it. The writing is losing its edge, the magazine’s voice is becoming blurred, the story ideas are stale because editors are burning out. Pay attention to your editorial instincts.
WHAT TO DO?That’s a whole other, complex subject. But you can start by getting reacquainted with your readers through surveys, phone calls, and focus groups. Talk to advertisers to find out what’s shifted. Get an outside evaluation of the magazine’s approach and execution. Re-examine where your magazine fits in the competitive landscape by using the tool in Map Your Competitors. See Clarify Your Mission Statement to help you sharpen your editorial identity. And stay tuned-we’ll provide more resources in the coming months.
We’ll be exploring “what to do?” in detail during our presentation on editorial repositioning at the Western Publications Association conference on April 20, 2006.