Should Publishers Push Subscriptions?

By | Saturday, June 30, 2012 1 comment
Used to be that you could order a subscription for just about every comic in America. It's not nearly as common a practice any more, but it's apparently still around. I have to admit to being surprised to see that Archie, DC and Marvel are offering them, though; they certainly don't seem to go out of their way to promote their subscription services. But they're still orderable through the companies' respective web sites.

I get why a publisher might not want to do subscriptions. It's more of a distribution concern than a publishing one, so it wouldn't really be part of the same bailiwick that a publisher would normally be used to. Also, given the current direct market system, it could easily be seen as a means to undercut local comic shops and it's understandable that publishers wouldn't want to shake up the basket into which they've put all their eggs.

But I wonder if there's not some great value to subscriptions that publishers aren't really capitalizing on. Namely, customer data.

Now, I'm not thinking in terms of selling customer lists or anything so blatant, but a lot of what drives business these days is customer data. Historically, publishers used the sales numbers to gauge the success of their magazines, which is good data to have, but what if you could tell what region(s) certain books were more popular? Or get gender breakdowns? Or simply just having an address to send a survey to? Depending on what information a company asked when a customer had to provide their mailing address, they could gain a number of insights about their customers. Even if you put questions in that were optional and largely unrelated to the subscription itself. And then comparing all that data against what they're getting through their digital subscriptions!

Comic publishing is littered with anecdotal evidence as to who reads their wares, why and how. Even the survey that DC is sending out now is, in part, just going to pull in anecdotal information. But anecdotal evidence is unreliable in the first place and not at all representative of an entire customer base in the second.

Obviously, I'm on the outside looking in, so maybe they do have hard core analysts who are parsing all the data they already do have into valuable and actionable information. It doesn't look like it from my vantage point but, as I said, I'm on the outside here. But from here, it looks like a lot of the same. And while that may well be backed up by data-driven evidence, I have the sneaking suspicion that it's not.
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Mike F said...

Sean, I just want mention why they most likely still offer subscription: Not everyone has easy access to a local comics shop. Not everyone lives in a city large enough to support one, or close enough to get to one weekly/monthly. I grew up in a town that did not have a comics store until I was in college, and now it is closed. This town has had grocery stores and convenience stores that sell some, but a limited variety. If not for subscriptions, I would not have been able to read certain comics as long as I have.