In search of the elusive ‘end user’

When selling or marketing subscription journals, you need at the very least to have a firm grasp of who is and isn’t already getting access to your content. Your approach will clearly be different for existing customers than it is for new prospects. However, the complexities of scholarly publishing mean this is often a lot more complicated than it sounds:

1. Subscribers. At the simplest level, a publisher’s subscription system will provide a clear record of all individuals who are current subscribers. In many other industries where all sales are direct-to-consumer, that’s all you need. However, for a scholarly publisher, that will usually only reveal a small fraction of all the individuals getting access to your latest issue.

2. Institutional access. Because journal subscriptions are usually sold to university libraries, companies or larger buying consortia, the majority of individuals accessing your content are probably anonymous from the publisher’s point of view. When you take a step back and think about it, that’s quite a marketing challenge: the majority of the end-consumers of your product are unknown and quite possibly un-contactable in any direct way!

3. Free access. To complicate matters further, other individuals may have access to your content via various forms of free access. For example: many publishers offer free access to certain society members, to some authors and researchers, and to selected developing world countries. These various types of free access are often recorded outside of the main subscriptions database, making it difficult to keep track of which individuals have free access, and for what reason.

4. Lapsed customers. People who have subscribed in the past fall into a grey area somewhere between ‘customer’ and ‘prospect’, and it’s sensible to target them separately with relevant re-activation offers. However, the task of identifying an appropriate group of lapsed customers is often fraught with doubt: what if they no longer subscribe because they now get free access via one of the routes above? And if so, what kind of an impression will it make to send them an irrelevant re-activation promotion?

5. Single article sales. Thankfully, it’s not all confusion and doubt when it comes to individual marketing. Those who have made single article purchases in recent months should be considered ‘hot prospects’ for two reasons: firstly, you can be sure they don’t already have free access by any of the routes above (they just paid for an article…), and secondly, they are clearly interested enough in your content to reach for their credit card and pay for it.

So in conclusion: publishers should recognize quite how elusive the individual ‘customer’ can be in terms of targeted marketing; and those who aren’t doing so already should consider starting out with a strong promotion sent systematically to all recent single article buyers.