Financing through subscriptions is likely to be more feasible in industrialised than in developing countries and easier for well-established bulletins. One of the advantages of subscription-based distribution is that the bulletin will not be regarded as ‘unsolicited’ material and so is more likely to be read by those who receive it.
To attract a critical mass of subscribers, it is helpful to have a sliding scale of fees for different types of personal and institutional subscribers, charging more to those who can afford to pay more. For example, if a bulletin is closely allied to an association of health professionals, members may pay for a bulletin as part of their membership dues, perhaps at a lower rate than non-members. Often bulletins charge only a nominal fee for students and sometimes lower fees for recently qualified health professionals. This helps to sustain future circulation, and also helps the bulletin to serve as an educational tool.
Institutions often pay a higher rate. It is normally a small item on the budget of a large institution. Public and university libraries provide a strong base for dissemination as well as a reliable source of income. The bulletin is available to many readers at once. Other institutions, such as government health agencies, may have their own specialised libraries for staff.
Bulletins frequently charge more to subscribers from developed than developing countries, more to commercial than non-commercial institutions, and more to government agencies than to non-profit groups. Still other approaches to differential pricing are, for example, reduced rates for long-term subscribers or special subscription rates for regular subscribers, or for those who automatically renew their subscription by direct transfer from their bank account. Discounted introductory rates are a way to attract new subscribers. Some bulletins differentiate by volume (single versus bulk distribution) or speed (air versus surface mail). Some charge for single issues, for example, back copies and reprints; others distribute a limited number of single issues free of charge as a way to attract subscribers. Whatever basis is used for differential pricing, the differences should be fair and not too large.
Collection of subscription fees can be time-consuming and expensive, requiring additional staff time and money. Simple tailor-made software packages are available for managing subscriptions, which can help to make the process more efficient. However, the better you know your subscribers (profession, age, etc.), with the help of in-house management, the more effectively you can promote and sell your bulletin.
Case study: Drugs Bulletin, India
Drugs Bulletin is published by the Department of Pharmacology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, India. It is a quarterly publication, which has been published since 1976 and is funded by the Institution, a public sector organization.
The bulletin is distributed free of cost to all the medical college libraries and at a very nominal annual subscription fee of Rs.60.00 (US$1.25) for personal use. Interested readers are required to send the required subscription amount by bank drafts in the name of the Director of the Institution. Approximately 1000 copies are distributed to all corners of India. Back issues, since 1995, are available for sale. Most of the bulletin’s readers are physicians working in peripheral medical/health centres. Faculty members as well as students in various medical schools are the other important categories of readers. Interestingly, although the bulletin is totally independent of the pharmaceutical industry, a substantial number of readers do in fact work in industry.
The journal is not actively marketed or advertised and most subscriptions are by word of mouth. We have now started to more actively ask for feedback from readers in order to improve the bulletin.
Contributed by Promila Pandhi, Drugs Bulletin, India