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Email open rates in the publishing world

October 4, 2010

Email open (or opening) rates are always the subject of hot debate in the publishing world. What’s the percentage you should expect? What would the bounce rate be etc?

Email service company Mail Chimp has produced an interesting apples-v-apples comparison chart for its subscribers. As they say in their article, Mail Chimp is a service for smaller companies so these figures will not necessarily reflect larger corporation analysis. However, it’s interesting to see that small companies are receiving average opening rates of between 16 and 34%. In all cases, unsubscribe rates are comendably low whereas hard bounces vary between 2 and 17% (the latter for a category entitled “self explanatory” – janitorial emails delivered a hard bounce of 16%).

An alternative survey by Ellie Behling in June this year, places opening rates for publishers at a rather poor 16.6% for consumer publishing and 18.7% for B2B. My experience in the B2B sector varied between 18% and 25% depending on sector and list.

I am assuming that the rates discussed above concern outbound marketing emails. But what about when you have loyal subscribers or customers? James Evelegh, publisher of In Publishing, told readers in a recent issue of his magazine, that he was achieving an average open rate of 34%. This is good – although of course he is dealing with a loyal readership to his magazine. He rightfully asks “what on earth happened to the other 66%?

He conducted some interesting research which showed that 75% of openers did so within three hours but that there was a “long tail” which lifted the overall open rate to 39% after six weeks. A particularly interesting statistic is the way his email “ezine” drives traffic to his website: an “approximate 35% increase, with a particularly noticeable spike on the Friday, which carries over, though less marked, to Monday and Tuesday of the following week“.

Clearly, if emails are to be opened and read, readers need to expect that they are going to receive something of value and interest. We have said many times on A Brand Day Out, that the secret of success is value delivered. It makes no difference whether we are talking about toilets on trains or data on websites.

An online community of readers can only be retained through real value; this is an issue faced by many publishers today. The simple placing of data or information on a web page and hoping for loyalty and viral spread is like fishing in a dried-up river bed.

This is why some publishers, instead of offering free content on the web are instead now rebuilding the pay-wall barrier. What they are doing is marketing what’s new to subscribers and subscribers only are reaching the information: they are valuing what they receive because they have already paid for it.

Emap’s David Gilbertson wrote convincingly on this trend recently on Rory Brown’s new media site, The Media Briefing. By rebuilding the pay wall, Emap’s magazines have increased renewal rates and, therefore, profitability. Of course, I don’t know what their open rates are like compared to James’s at In Publishing, but one must conclude that the process is valued if renewal rates have increased. I have no doubt that Emap is not receiving open rates of 100% but it would be interesting if any reader could comment on a figure to compare with that experienced by James.

This still begs the question about how many of James’ subscribers don’t open at all. But while open rates are important, it’s what people do next which is important. If enough people are buying to make it profitable, great. If people are converting on particular goals, equally great. But if you are not measuring what is happening then the whole process becomes mired in “analysis paralysis”: analysis for analysis’ sake with staff doing anything but being productive.

If, by undertaking email marketing, you are hoping to achieve something, do you know what it is? Ultimately, any marketing activity must aim to deliver two key fundamentals: profitable new customers; retained or improved renewal rates. If neither of these things is being achieved, you need to question your email marketing strategy. Doing it “just because” is not an option.

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