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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 41 - Address for Success

Those philatelic publications that want to survive will make the transition to the Internet, I believe. And since many stamp societies' well-being is tied to their publications, I believe the same is true for organizations.

The U.S. Postal Service is either incapable of or disinterested in providing timely, economical delivery service of small-circulation national publications. Or perhaps it's a charming combination of both.

Both Linn's Stamp News, Mekeel's/Stamps, and U.S. Stamp News have done so, but not as slickly as some mainstream newspapers: The previews for the Linn's online edition (www.linnsonline.com) are on a different site (www.linns.com). The previews for Mekeel's/Stamps and U.S. Stamp News (from the same publisher) at www.stampnewsnow.com are small illustrations of the covers — so small I wasn't sure if they were the current editions.

Linn's charges as much for an online subscription as for a print one, even though its costs should be significantly less. Mekeel's/Stamps and U.S. Stamp News charge a little less for their electronic editions.

As far as I know, neither Scott Stamp Monthly nor Global Stamp News have any appreciable online presence at this time.

American Philatelist is slated to make the transition, at least partly, once the new APS Web site is operating. But that project is so far behind schedule.

Many mainstream newspapers require some form of subscription. In some cases, everything recent is available for free, and earlier articles for fees of some sort. In other cases, a summary is available for free, the complete article for fees. In still others, nothing is available (except maybe headlines), except to print subscribers. (I find these particularly frustrating; I'm not going to subscribe to the print edition of some local Kansas newspaper because, just once, I want to read an entire article.)

And of course, there are online editions that are only available to online-edition subscribers. Notable among these is The Wall Street Journal.

There are also mixes of these options.

As bad as the cost of mailing small-niche publications is within the United States, it's much worse for mailing these publications to subscribers outside U.S. Michael Laurence, then editor and publisher of Linn's, had hoped that Linn's Online would enable the weekly paper to grab more international subscribers.

It should have worked, but then Linn's and its corporate paper seemed to drop those efforts, and, indeed, Linn's barely promotes its electronic edition at all.

I dropped my print subscription to Linn's and switched solely to the online edition when the USPS proved incapable of timely delivery. Instead of a newspaper, I was receiving an oldspaper. I got better service temporarily after filing asking the publisher to file a publication watch with the Postal Service, but after a few months, we were back to delayed delivery.

But I've noticed two things about subscribing to the online edition: I don't read the paper as thoroughly as I once did, and sometimes I even forget to check that week's edition at all.

A small stamp society to which I belong, the American Ceremony Program Society, switched entirely from hard-copy publishing of its newsletter to putting it on the Internet. I almost never remember to check each month, and so I missed the fact that the group was failing to publish each month. It has now switched back to hard-copy publishing.

I get electronic notifications from some non-philatelic publications that a new issue is available, but I get so much e-mail, some of it in that Twilight Zone of not-quite-junk but not-quite-personal that I don't always check.

The problem is that when I receive a hard-copy publication in my regular mail or on my driveway (or in the case of a free weekly in my town, in the gutter whenever it's raining), it's a physical reminder to read it. I'm not getting that with online philatelic publications.

So here's my recommendation to all philatelic publishers:

  • Offer online editions, for a discount off your paper-edition subscriptions.
  • Run around to the major philatelic forums (message boards, newsgroups, e-mail lists, etc.) and remind subscribers and tell prospective subscribers that a new edition is out, and what it offers.
  • If it's a weekly publication, send online subscribers a reminder e-mail when the new edition is available, with some teasers of what's in the issue.
  • If I haven't logged in to check the publication in a month, send me a snail-mail postcard reminder. You should be able to tie the record of log-ins to the publication site automatically to generating a postcard.
  • If it's a monthly or more — First Days is a semi-quarterly, coming out eight times a year — send online subscribers an honest-to-goodness hard-copy snail-mail postcard whenever a new issue is ready online.

Sending out a postcard, plus the cost of creating and maintaining the online site, may not warrant a significant discount off the hard-copy price, but give one anyway. You want subscribers to switch. You can slowly raise the prices back to profitable levels later.

The 30 cents or so (postage plus printing) has got to be less than the postage to mail me a historical document of what was happening in the stamp world two months ago. And it's far, far less than losing me as a subscriber or signing up a replacement for me.

Take it from your Uncle Lloyd: I earn a major portion of my hobby income from your publications. I want you to live long and prosper.

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