What is Subscriber Attrition

Learn what subscriber attrition is and what to do about it

Is it subscriber attrition rate or growth rate? In the magazine and newspaper industry you most often hear "subscriber attrition rate" or "attrition report" and if you are slowly bleeding subscribers that is probably an apt term. But really, shouldn't it be "subscriber growth rate"? Shouldn't we be focused on growing our circulation, not just stopping the bleeding?


Well of course! But if you are currently dealing with a shrinking circulation, reversing that trend is the top priority. So, how do we do that? First, let's understand what an attrition rate is.


Perhaps the easiest way to understand attrition (or growth) is with a quick example. Let's say you pull your mailing labels for your next issue and you have 1,000 active subscribers getting the issue. Some number of those subscribers are going to expire with that issue. (they now have zero issues remaining) Let's say that number is 50 subscribers. If you did nothing between now and your following label run you'd only be printing 950 copies next time. Your attrition rate would be 50/1,000 or 5%. If you kept losing 5% of your circ with each issue, eventually you'd have no subscribers left.


So how do we reduce that 5% and even grow our circulation to higher numbers?


The first thing we need to look at is maximizing our renewal rate. Presumably we have already renewed some number of the subscribers that were going to expire with the latest issue so our renewal rate is not 0%. Let's say 100 people "would have expired" but we already renewed 50 of them so our renwal rate is 50% and we have 50 people left to renew. (to get to a 100% renewal rate)


As you can see, focusing on our renewal rate will go a long way towards reducing our attrition rate. The closer we get our renewal rate to 100% the closer we get our attrition rate to zero.


Now of course a 100% renewal rate is nearly impossible even with auto renew, automated renewal emails, and automated renewal letters so what else can we do? (also, we invariably will have a few cancels, bad addresses, etc. weighing down our rate)


To make up the gap created by our non-renewed subscribers we need to go out and find more subscribers and the first step in that process is going after what we call win-backs. Win-backs are subscribers who have lapsed by at least one issue (expired before the most recent issue) and thus would essentially count as new subscribers if we can get them to renew now. We know these people enjoyed the publication at some point so perhaps we offer them a discount to come back into the fold.


The next and final step is finding subscribers who have never read your publication before. Whether its running Facebook or Google ads, offering Buy One Get One to renewing subscribers, or just emailing all of our existing subscribers at the holidays and asking them to buy a gift subscription, there is a lot we can do to get new subscribers.

Let's say we win back 10 subscribers and get 30 new signups before our next label run. Now our actives are back up to 990 (from 950) and our attrition rate is only 1%. If we win back 20 subscribers and find 40 new ones now were at 1,010 active and we've grown our circulation! If we do that each time we print a new issue we're in business!


Of course if our renewal rate had been better and we started the new period down only 30 subscribers then those 60 new people would have us at 1,030 so clearly improving your renewal rates is key.


In conclusion, attrition is the rate at which you are losing active subscribers each time you pull a new issue. If you can get that rate to zero your circulation will remain steady. If you can do even better your circ will grow! The first step is maximizing your renewal rate so that you minimize the number of brand new subscribers you need to find to stay a float. Finally, those new subscribers can come from win-backs, people with lapsed subscriptions, or from entirely new people. Focus on the things outlined in this primer and you'll be growing your circulation in no time!


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