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It’s unlikely the two deals are related, but Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ acquisition of the Washington Post and Conde Nast’s deal to start selling subscriptions to Vogue, Vanity Fair, Bon Appetite and Wired, among other titles, through Amazon make an interesting juxtaposition.
As I noted in a previous post, bringing a retail merchant’s flair to selling news content online would be one of the best things Bezos could do for the Post and for the newspaper business in general. Similarly, bringing Amazon’s e-commerce chops to bear on selling magazine subscriptions could do the industry a world of good.
Magazine subscriptions are still mostly sold directly by the publisher, using old-fashion direct marketing techniques based on a handful of data points about potential targets. Amazon knows far more about its customers than most magazine publishers know about their readers, and more than most direct marketers know about the lists they’re targeting. Presumably, Amazon will be able to leverage that data to sell subscriptions far more efficiently than Conde Nast can do itself. Amazon will also enable One-Click ordering of the Conde Nast titles as part of the deal, eliminating the friction caused by having to fill out subscription forms and establishing a new billing relationship with the publisher. Less friction generally means a higher conversion rate.
Like newspapers, magazine subscriptions are also still largely sold on a one-size-fits-all basis: pay the full freight, get the full bundle. That made sense when bundling content into a single, printed volume was the most efficient way to offer and deliver the content. But digital allows far more flexibility in how content can be packaged and sold, and Amazon has the platform in place, with the Kindle store and Amazon Prime, to offer customized packages of digital content at various price points.
It’s unclear whether Amazon’s deal with Conde Nast allows for that type of flexible bundling at this point. But publishers badly need to learn the tools of e-commerce if they’re to survive in anything like their current form. Partnering with Amazon is a good place to start.