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Typical Renewal Rates by Eithne McCredie

By Eithne McCredie, Founder, McCredie Circulation Management

Renewals are the most important source in circulation for three reasons: they are profitable; they account for at least three quarters of circulation revenue; and they are a reflection of your editorial content.

Having worked with numerous Canadian magazines for over 20 years, there are definite “Typical Renewal Responses” that differ by magazine type in general, and specifically by source. The highest rates tend to be B2B, especially if there are no competitors; consumer/niche have the next highest rates; followed by consumer/general interest.

Renewal Response by Magazine Category

Business to Business = 65% to 85%
Consumer/Niche = 55% to 65%
General Interest/Literary = 50% to 58%

Of course, every magazine has different editorial, reader demographics and subscriber life spans, but there’s a proven approach to renewing subscriptions that is common for all.

Assuming great editorial, a strong renewal series, consistent frequency and good customer service, here’s what a “typical” renewal by effort analysis looks like:

Fall 2018 Expires Mail Date # Mailed # Response % Response Rev @ $20/Per Expense Profit/Loss
1st Effort May 1 500 125 25% $2,500 $525 $1,975
2nd Effort Jun 2 425 64 15% $1,275 $446 $829
3rd Effort Jul 1 319 32 10% $638 $335 $303
4th Effort Aug 3 300 24 8% $480 $315 $165
5th Wrapper Sep 1 260 13 5% $260 $104 $156
6th Emailed Sep 15 240 4 1.5% $72 $36 $36
7th Effort Oct 10 210 6 3% $126 $221 -$95
Total 268 53.51% $5,351 $1,982 $3,369

Consider this: If you boost the above renewal rate by two points to 55.51%, this would bring in $290 cash, costs would remain the same, and the end result would be an 8.6% increase in revenue.

The first renewal should get the highest response and steadily decline with each subsequent effort. If the response tail is staggered there’s a problem. Perhaps the mail dates are too close together or the price/offer is not compelling, or you haven’t mailed enough efforts or each renewal has the same copy and/or creative. Other reasons could be inconsistent frequency or problems with customer service. Editorial is another factor. Did the content change (for better or worse!)?

How many efforts to mail? At least five for most magazines, but the best answer is as many efforts until they become unprofitable. It doesn’t matter what the magazine frequency is. Many quarterlies send six to eight renewals. Mailed efforts get better responses than emailed or wrappers. Perhaps because the magazine arrives in the mail and/or a renewal notice is a “response device.” Emailed efforts can boost overall response by a point or two, but it’s rare that an emailed renewal gets more than a mailed effort. Emails are less expensive, so it is worth adding one or two. Wrappers are cost effective but also tend to get fewer returned than mailed, likely because it’s included with the magazine or there’s no reply envelope. Telemarketing can be expensive if outsourced but can work for certain types of magazines and sources, especially donor renewals.

Long-term analysis by source from start date onwards provides critical information on when each source becomes profitable. Some sources make money or break even when they start their first issue: agencies, gifts, web and insert cards. Others take two or more years to recoup expenses, especially direct mail and free-standing inserts, both of which can cost up to $30 per order to obtain.

As the cost to obtain each source varies, so too does their renewal response as per the outline below. Note that the “Renewal” source is the subscribers who have been with the magazine for three or more years. They are your best and most loyal readers. You want lots of them. “Conversions” are people who are up for renewal for the second time, i.e. year two. The other sources listed, direct mail etc., are all first time renewal rates.

Circulation Sources: Total Renewal
Gifts – Donors 85%
Renewal (3+ years) 73%
White mail 70%
Insert Cards 51%
Website 42%
Conversions (2nd renewal) 52%
Direct Mail 38%
Free Standing Inserts 32%
Agency – School Plans 17%
Gift – Recipients 15%
Library/Catalogue agents* 6%

*Library/catalogue agents renew very well, but not direct-to-publisher. There’s a good reason for this: Libraries can get over 800 subscriptions, so imagine managing expirations and dealing with each magazine directly? Ordering through catalogue agents such as EBSCO makes sense. Quite often magazines will not send all mailed efforts to that source. Instead they’ll just mail a wrapper effort on the expiration issue which is very cost efficient; the postage is already paid with the magazine mailing.

Donors renewing their gifts tend to renew over 80%. Interestingly, renewing recipients (when their donor didn’t) renew quite poorly, and are usually less than 20%.

Another consideration is the subscription lifespan of your magazine. For example, a children’s magazine has a short life span, but likely has a large percentage of gift subscriptions making this type of editorial viable. However, you must replace these with new subscriptions more often than a general interest title.

Copy and Creative

Each renewal effort should be different, with a unique design and benefit-oriented copy including editorial and price savings. Each compelling offer could focus on two or three points, depending on the timing of the effort. If you’re mailing to your subscribers six times, you need to have six different reasons. The most important package element is the outer envelope, so you need to entice the reader to open it. Here’s a few outer envelope and copy pitch ideas:

  • Special early long term renewal savings
  • Last time for special 2 year offer
  • It’s time to renew
  • Hurry! Just one more issue to go
  • Last time to save before your subscription expires
  • You just received your last issue
  • Welcome back

The offer is the next most important factor in boosting response, so try to vary each effort with a mix of price savings using dollars and percentages, and mix up the one, two and three year options but only in the first few efforts. If someone hasn’t renewed by the fourth effort, then it’s best to stick to a one year only.

The letter copy for each effort should be based on the outer envelope. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Use the word “you.”
  • Add an offer deadline and/or guarantee.
  • Include editorial benefits such as a special annual, upcoming anniversary issue, particular column (or columnist).
  • Every effort should be a “last chance” for something, i.e., for three-year savings, to renew before subscription expires, to ensure you don’t miss an issue, etc.
  • Each effort should be signed by a different person, i.e., publisher, editor, circulation director.

Other points to consider:

  • Test auto renewals by adding a box to the order form
    • [ ] Automatic Renewal: Yes, please extend my subscriptions for another year prior to expiry so I don’t miss an issue. I may cancel at any time and get a refund. My CC # is _____________________
  • The more efforts sent before the subscription expires, the higher the response.
  • Consider inserting a buck slip to promote upcoming editorial, gift subscriptions, anniversary issue, literary contests, premiums, etc.
  • Mail the renewal effort just after they receive an issue.
  • Some circulation audit bureaus report on renewal rates so see how your competitors are faring.
  • A UK magazine study tested removing the actual expire issue date on the order form and focused on number of issues to go and found that responses increased.

Have renewal rates declined over the last five years?

For some yes, but for others responses have been stable, especially for trade and niche magazines. The only way to determine the efficacy of your renewal series is to implement a strong compelling multi-effort series and to analyze responses regularly.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif


Fact Checking 101 by Conan Tobias

By Conan Tobias, Editor-in-Chief, Taddle Creek

Introduction: The State of Fact Checking

There are two types of fact checking: the kind that happens as a step in the editorial process before a piece is released to the public, and the kind that happens post-release, when published stories or videos, social media posts or a public figure’s comments are in question. This Hotsheet focuses on checking stories before they’re published, but given how prominent “fake news” has become in recent years, it’s important for every journalist to be aware of and keep up on the battle against misinformation. For example, the New York Times, Mother Jones, and BuzzFeed are a few of the publications that recently launched “misinformation projects” to identify false online content, in some cases reaching out for help from readers. Fact checker Brooke Borel’s FiveThirtyEight article “Fact-Checking Won’t Save Us From Fake News” is an excellent primer and opinion piece on the topic.

Up until early this century, many young journalists got their start in Canadian magazines by working as a fact checker. Those jobs are nearly non-existent today given the industry’s fading fortunes in recent years. For that reason, it’s more important than ever for everyone involved in the editorial process to have an understanding of how fact checking works. Traditionally, fact checking your own writing has been frowned upon. But better to check your own work than to have it not checked at all. If you’re an editor, you probably won’t opt to or have time to thoroughly check every story that crosses your desk, but knowing what to watch for and where the most common mistakes are made might help you catch an important fact that saves you from embarrassment—or lawsuit.

What is fact checking?

A fact is anything that is known to be true: the colour of a house, the balance of a bank account, a historical date, and so on. Therefore, fact checking is the act of confirming the accuracy of a presented fact. The practice of fact checking in the print media generally is associated with North American consumer magazines, and usually said to have begun at Time, in the 1920s, under Henry Luce and Briton Hadden. (The New Yorker, under founder Harold Ross, also is frequently given credit for helping to popularize fact checking.)

Why do we fact-check?

Fact checking is both a point of pride and a way to avoid being sued. If you’re reporting real-life events, it’s your duty to ensure the information that you’re presenting to your readers is accurate. Relaying false information does a disservice to the reader who paid to read your story, and to the sources who trusted you to tell it accurately. Plus, mistakes tarnish the reputation of both writer and publication. At the same time, while getting someone’s height wrong by an inch or two probably won’t be noticed by too many people, getting more serious facts incorrect—facts that may end up libeling a source—can land a publication in court and potentially put it out of business.

Who fact checks?

Ideally fact checking is undertaken by a trained professional: someone with one or more university degrees, a few languages at their disposal, and wide-ranging world knowledge. That ideal, sadly, is not often achievable on the budget of most magazines in the 21st century. Today, checking often is undertaken (if at all) by junior staffers, interns, or freelancers, but the basics still stand: in theory, a fact checker should be a blank slate (checkers never assume to know facts, they check them). But in reality, a checker needs to be knowledgeable, worldly, curious, sharp and attentive, with an eye for detail. The more knowledge a checker has, the better they’ll be at their job.

How to fact check

Checking usually takes place once a story has been edited, but before the copy editing process begins. Before beginning the checking process, a checker should discuss their approach with the editor, in the event there are any touchy sources or other potential pitfalls involved. A checker should start by reading the story to be checked two or three times, highlighting every fact. Authors should provide checkers with all of their source material: notes, documents, interview recordings, photos and source contact information, though a checker may still end up having to do some digging on their own.

Each fact should be checked with a primary source. A primary source is the most authoritative source for a given fact: asking a source their age is consulting a primary source; checking that fact with the source’s friend is consulting a secondary source. Checking a company’s financials via its annual report is consulting a primary source; checking those same numbers via a newspaper article is consulting (at best) a secondary source.

Once checking is complete, any potential changes should be discussed with the writer and editor. (If necessary, a legal team may be brought in to vet the piece for libel or other issues.) Just like every story is different, every checking process is different. There is no definitive norm.

What to check

Ideally, check everything. But if you’re short on time and resources, be especially sure to check proper names, numbers and consistency of story. Quotations from a source should be checked for the facts they contain, but never read quotes back to a source directly—they may regret something they said and try to take it back. Remember that letters to the editor, opinion pieces, reviews and fiction contain checkable facts too.

Finally, don’t stop at the story itself: check headlines, decks, bylines, author bios and captions. Even photos and illustrations need to be checked to ensure that they accurately portray their story.


This Hotsheet scratches the surface of how to fact check. For a more complete view, have a look at the following sources:
The Fact Checker’s Bible, by Sarah Harrison Smith (Anchor)
The Chicago Guide to Fact Checking, by Brooke Borel (University of Chicago Press)

Resources on Verifying Other Media
Cutting Through the Noise: Digital Accuracy” by Craig Silverman (Magazines Canada Hotsheet)
The Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network.

Magazines Canada Hotsheets deliver current information on a single topic, each written by an expert in the field. Return to Magazines Canada Hotsheets.

Canada Council for the Arts / Conseil des arts du Canada Department of Canadian Heritage  Ontario Arts Council / Conseil des arts de l'Ontario Ontario Creates / Ontario Créatif