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Magazine subscriptions boom amid the COVID-19 crisis

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Despite the COVID-19 disruption, UK magazine publishers are reporting triple-digit surges in new print and digital subscriptions.

Global digital partner, Jellyfish, has exclusive insight across the UK print and digital magazine subscription sector, as it not only owns, the leading magazine subscription website in the UK, and, the fast-growing international digital newsstand, but it also runs Paid Search and Paid Social campaigns for numerous publishers – including Hearst Magazines UK, Investors Chronicle (FT), TIME Europe and HELLO!.

Here, Carola York, Vice President, Publishing at Jellyfish explains what we’re seeing in the industry right now and offers her advice on how publishers can drive subscription performance and revenue during COVID-19.

Interest rose rapidly in the first week of lockdown and has been high ever since

With the UK population learning to live in confinement and more time set to be spent at home over the next few weeks, magazines are proving to be of huge interest. This is thanks to their ability to keep readers entertained, inspired and distracted – and, in some cases, help people learn a new skill or further develop an existing passion.

The first week of lockdown saw a huge increase in print magazine subscription page views, peaking at the end of March. Although volumes have fallen slightly since, they are still at significantly high levels.

Print subscriptions have been proving more popular than digital

Although uptake in digital magazine subscriptions has risen, interest in print subscriptions has risen by at least twice as much as digital since the start of lockdown.

All print magazine categories have shown significant increases in page views, with the biggest growth seen in Kids (an incredible 502%!), Home & Gardening (403%), and Women’s (325%). The Sports category has also seen improved performance – suggesting readers are still keen to keep up-to-date, despite no live sport taking place at the moment.


Interestingly, the increase in demand for digital subscriptions is coming from different categories. Tech and Gaming have seen the biggest year-on-year increase so far (268%), followed by Family & Home (259%).


How to run effective Paid Search and Paid Social subscription acquisition campaigns during lockdown

Although the stats demonstrate there’s a huge rise in interest in magazine subscriptions, you still need to make sure your brand is visible on the digital landscape. Running Paid Media campaigns is proving to be incredibly effective when it comes to subscription acquisition, but requires careful management and appropriate messaging to be truly successful.

Here are a few tips to consider when running a Paid Search campaign during lockdown:

  • People may still be looking for good value deals, but what’s more important at the moment is ensuring you call out your USPs in your ads – such as free delivery, or immediate and free access to a digital edition, if bundled with a print subscription.
  • Jellyfish is seeing far more users searching on their mobiles, so make sure the loading speed of the landing page you’re sending customers to is as fast as it can be. It’s also worth calling out mobile-specific USPs in your ads, such as one-click payment via Google or Apple Pay.
  • Trends around the time and day of the week people are searching and purchasing have changed since lockdown. Peaks you may previously have seen over workday lunchtimes,  the evening commute home or early evening hours have now shifted. Jellyfish is finding that users are buying throughout the day and even into the early hours of the morning, so check your data and review your bid adjustments accordingly.
  • While interest in magazine subscriptions remains high, now is the time to capitalise on the opportunity to boost subscription volumes, as well as build your brand profile and awareness. Jellyfish is finding Google Display Network’s Custom Affinity and Discovery Ads are working well – not only in generating good conversion volumes, but in terms of the positive impact they’re having on awareness, too.

If you’re not yet using Paid Social – or if you previously couldn’t generate conversions from the channel at an efficient cost per acquisition (CPA) – thanks to the current high levels of consumer interest and strong conversion rates, now is a great time to test or revisit it.

Here are four things to bear in mind when setting up Facebook and Instagram campaigns for subscription acquisition:

  1. Ensure your tracking is fully and correctly set up through the Facebook pixel.
  2. Keep your approach broad and simple; Facebook is highly effective at finding the right users for you.
  3. Ensure your creative is mobile-friendly and built for its channel e.g. make sure you have specific, dedicated Instagram Stories creative.
  4. Use Automatic Placements on Facebook – this maximises reach and liquidity of spend.

New to advertising on social media? Be patient with results. Don’t expect an immediate low CPA as this can take a bit of time to achieve. Make sure you invest enough in the channel to get through the ‘early learning’ phase. Front weighting budgets can help with this. Then, as you continue to feed the Facebook pixel with data, over time you’ll start to see more attractive CPAs.

Don’t forget your subscription landing page experience

Right now, the value of digital channels and platforms is clear. But in Experience Audits Jellyfish has conducted for its publisher clients in the past, mobile is usually a key area of underperformance for subscription acquisition. So review your conversion and bounce rates for mobile and focus on improving them as a priority. This might require you to shift development capacity or investment, but doing so will pay dividends in terms of maximising the effectiveness of your marketing budget – at a time when every penny counts.

It’s also important to review the various digital journeys you send your customers on. Go through the process yourself (or ask colleagues in other teams to, as if they were a new customer). Look at the end-to-end experience – from your ad, landing page and offers, to what payment options you give, and how you ask for customer address and payment details. Are you making it as fast and easy as it could or should be? Are your competitors offering an easier and better experience than you are? If so, it’s time to make improvements.

Carola York
Vice President, Publishing, Jellyfish

About: The Jellyfish Group has been in the publishing industry for 15 years, and supports numerous newspaper and magazine publishers worldwide, including Hearst Magazines (UK), TIME (Europe) and Arena Holdings (SA), as well as owning and The Jellyfish brand represents a new kind of digital business, where agency services are combined with consultancy, training and cutting-edge technologies to deliver the best possible outcomes for clients. The Jellyfish Group is a reseller of Google digital marketing technology stack and services.

Photo by Stefen Tan on Unsplash