The Business of B-to-B Subscriber Files

Jul 01, 2004 9:30 PM  By

Many catalogers dismiss subscription lists as a profitable way to reach prospects. But for catalogers, particularly business-to-business mailers, that need to reach a specific niche, the lists of special-interest magazines can uncover the exact sort of prospects they need.

Suppose you sell tanning salon equipment and you’re trying to reach managers of tanning salons and day spas, says Milford, NH-based catalog consultant Mary Ann Kleinfelter. Because you prefer renting lists of proven mail order buyers, you try cherry-picking names from a dozen or so diverse buyer files — only to turn up just a handful of salons and spas. But you could easily reach them by renting names from industry or trade publications that go to beauty salons and spas, she points out. “That’s why you go to a subscriber list, because it targets your niche so effectively.”

Moore Medical Corp., a New Britain, CT-based marketer of medical and podiatry supplies, has found that to be the case. Magazine subscriber files account for about 80% of the company’s prospecting efforts among hard-to-reach specialty groups such as podiatry and emergency technicians, says Tim Bidwell, director of direct marketing.

Kleinfelter admits that b-to-b magazine lists are less responsive than buyer files. She estimates that they’re generally 75% as effecitve as a buyer file. But they’re generally less expensive as well, averaging $100/M-$125/M, while most catalog files start at $125/M. Then there’s the issue of availability: According to the most recent Catalog Age Benchmark Report on Lists (more results of which will appear in the August 1 issue of Catalog Age), only 12% of b-to-b catalogers even make their house file names available for rental or exchange.

Making the lists work

To maximize the effectiveness of a subscriber file, Kleinfelter advocates using as many selections as possible, especially on larger lists or when the subscriber base is somewhat diverse. Don’t be afraid to ask the list owner or manager if any other selectable data exists that isn’t present on the file’s datacard.

In the past six quarters, Nashua, NH-based desktop-telephony products marketer Hello Direct has rented 221 subscriber lists, including files from Kiplinger, McGraw-Hill, and American Lawyer. Some of these lists include consumers or professionals who don’t fall within Hello Direct’s target audience, says list manager Prudence Carlson.

“So we might rent a list and take the males at business addresses, eliminating the consumers,” Carlson explains. “For those publications, that particular select seems to respond better for us.” She has also found that a fair number of subscriber names aren’t available in other sources, such as compiled files or cooperative databases.

Before you rent a subscriber file, ask the list owner or manager the same questions you would regarding a catalog file, such as the source of the names, when the list was last updated, and when the subscription cards were last filled out. “If a mailer is renting subscription lists for the first time, they might not know enough to ask,” Kleinfelter says.

Out-of-date subscriber information may have been a reason that Livonia, MI-based J&L Industrial Supply was dissatisfied with its experience renting magazine files. “We stopped using subscriber lists three years ago,” says Chuck Moyer, vice president of marketing and supply chain management for the metalworking tools cataloger. “Because of the recession and the number of layoffs and job changes in manufacturing, we found subscriber lists to be amazingly inaccurate.”

Besides, even among niche markets, Moyer says, J&L’s target market is especially small. “Our universe is only 260,000 manufacturing companies who cut or finish metal,” he says. “We can identify them pretty easily by standard industrial classification [SIC] code.” For that reason, J&L prefers to rent names from compiled lists.

Bidwell of Moore Medical Corp. points out another drawback to subscriber lists: They provide little information on who at a company has buying authority — especially at locations that have multiple subscribers. At medical practices, for instance, “many times the doctor will direct the office manager to buy certain products,” he says.

The problem is compounded when it concerns selling any kind of technology product, Bidwell says, since it’s often unclear who in the practice has the authority to buy such items. In this case Moore Medical might request a purchasing manager select on a subscriber list to narrow down the universe.

Paid Circ vs. Controlled Circ

There are two types of trade magazine circulations: controlled and paid. With controlled circulation, subscribers receive the publication for free in exchange for giving the publishing company information such as their name, job title, company type, and company revenue. That helps the publishing company determine if the prospective subscribers fit the magazine’s reader profile. A magazine for professional hairdressers, for instance, would probably not give a free subscription to someone who did not work in the beauty industry. By qualifying subscribers this way, magazines can ensure their advertisers that they are reaching the desired audience.

Paid circulation, meanwhile, is just that: The subscribers pay to receive the publication. Those deemed “unqualified” can still receive the publication but they will have to pay for it.

“With paid circulation, the publishing company knows very little about the subscriber, other than their name and address,” says Mark Rosen, director of audience marketing for Stamford, CT-based Primedia Business Magazines and Media (the publisher of Catalog Age). “With controlled circulation lists, the publisher knows a lot about the subscriber because they’re required to provide information in exchange to get the publication for free.”