We have compelling evidence from usage statistics: usage of a magazine’s trial issues drives subscriptions. It certainly does. Interestingly, the different magazines have different conversion rates: for some magazines the conversion rate may be as low as 1 new subscriber gained for every 50 sample pages viewed in the shop, and for others the average can be 100s of pages freely viewed for each new sub. The highly pictorial magazines are highly sampled. I think this is a very positive take-home from our experience of digital magazines. A lot of users enjoy looking at the well-designed and glossy magazines in our system!

Some of the more specialist titles seem to pull viewers through to a subscription more rapidly than the general interest titles. Another interesting fact, the magazines are used from from front cover to back. All the sample magazines seem to be sampled/tasted throughout (there is a usage weighting towards the front of the magazine, the front cover — this is one of our busiest last month, the contents pages — this is our busiest last year — and the opening articles — lots of tasters have read this article on 9/11). This usage weighting towards the Front and the Table of Contents is a consistent pattern for magazine samples on Open Access and also for the usage of the titles by subscribers.

So what does this tell us? One lesson that we have taken from our monthly stats is that a significant increase in trial usage will boost subscriptions. It is actually a very obvious point, if a publisher promotes the archive of the magazine, and the quality of its back issues is more widely appreciated, more subscriptions will be sold.

Magazines are much like books in this respect. Just as Amazon’s Search Inside works — “Browsing pages sells more books”, so also with magazines. Browsing sells more subscriptions. If only dentists waiting rooms were points of sale, we would be leaving his surgery with a couple of subscriptions as well as our dental floss. Of course, on the web they can become that.

This is one good reason for making a substantial section of a magazine’s archive available as a free resource which prospective subscribers can search and browse. Usage of the archive will tend to drive subscriptions. But it is the publisher’s choice to decide how much to offer for free access and our system now enables publishers who use our system to make this choice.