MAGAZINE LISTS: Subscribing to niche readers

Conventional list wisdom dictates that magazine subscribers, despite having bought a product they receive through the mail, are not mail order buyers. But some specialty catalogers are nonetheless making subscriber lists work for them.

John Bales, marketing director of whitewater rafting outfitter Northwest River Supplies (NRS), says the Moscow, ID-based mailer, which has an annual circulation of 500,000, gets its best response – nearly double the company’s 2% average – from certain rafting magazine lists. NRS has worked with Abacus to model its house file.

“We know our customers are highly educated and young,” Bales says. “But what really works for us with magazine lists are [existing customer] geographic hot zones – specific SCFs [sectional center facilities] and even specific zip codes.” Bales says that while population centers like Seattle have large concentrations of whitewater rafting enthusiasts, it’s the smaller, more rural markets such as Durango, CO, that attract the real – and big-spending – zealots.

Mike Michelak, owner of The Fly Shop, a Redding, CA-based fly-fishing outfitter, says magazines play a significant role in his circulation plans, even though some of these lists “purge out 80%” against his house file.

Although Michelak also uses club lists and rosters from fly-fishing organizations to target established fishermen, some of his best prospects have been new subscribers to hunting and fishing magazines such as Field & Stream. “We aren’t necessarily looking for the hardcore fly-fisherman,” Michelak says. “The entry-level customer buys more from us. If you’re happy with the fly rod you’re using, it’s going to take a technological advancement to get you to buy a new one. But if you’re just starting out, that’s when you buy most of your equipment.”

Michelak believes in repetition. He tests magazine lists twice before giving up on them, and he often sends prospects a number of catalogs. “As with any sale, you usually don’t get the business the first time you ask for it,” he notes.

No merge/purge allowed?

While The Fly Shop favors neophytes, woodworking supplies cataloger McFeely’s Square Drive Screws prefers targeting serious woodworkers rather than new or casual hobbyists. But finding those names has been a challenge for Jim Ray, president of the Lynchburg, VA-based company.

Ray has found that committed woodworkers frequently subscribe to more than one hobby magazine, while the less devoted are more likely to read only one. Unfortunately, publishers have been unwilling to allow him to merge/purge their lists against those of their competitors, he says, largely because the resulting number of names would represent too small a part of their lists.

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