Online subscriptions secrets of a media pioneer

Developing a content-based online subscription business is the holy grail for many specialist publishers.  The latest winner of the Media Pioneers awards, organised by the Specialist Media Show to recognise innovative and entrepreneurial media businesses, has quietly established a community of paying subscribers who visit her site at least weekly.  Read on to discover her experiences and learn tips for your own subscription business…

Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages for wine enthusiasts

Jancis Robinson is well-known as a wine expert and writer, with many books and TV programmes to her name.  Over 10 years she has built up an audience of 60,000 visitors a month to her website, who spend just over 4 minutes per visit to the free sections. They are rewarded with new articles on the world of wine and food, published every day, written by Jancis and her restaurant critic husband.  Jancis has built up a database of 20,000 registered visitors, whom she emails regularly. She also mentions her site and the subscription section – the Purple Pages –  in her own press articles.

Exclusive searchable databases, plus insider articles

Site visitors are reminded of the benefits of subscribing to the Purple Pages, which cost £69pa.  Subscribers rate highly the searchable database of 45,000 wine tasting notes, which are linked to popular cellar management service Cellar Tracker.  They like the ability to search online two major wine reference sources, the Oxford Companion to Wine and the World Atlas of Wine, both of which Jancis edits.  They also appreciate the insider’s view of the wine world in the twice-daily articles that Jancis adds to the subscription section.  Jancis also adds podcasts and video clips.

The most civilised wine forum on the planet

A big draw is the members-only forum, which allows wine enthusiasts from across the world to discuss hot topics and swap notes.  It has built up into a very convivial, civilised and knowledgeable community, and members are keen to keep it fenced off from the outside world.  A good proportion of Purple Page subscribers are in the wine trade, but there are also many amateur enthusiasts, and the members are spread across the world.

Tips for specialist media businesses

So what can other specialist media businesses learn from Jancis’s success?  The exclusive online rights to her reference books are a big draw, and almost justify the subscription price alone. The tasting notes are highly valued, and this really is the benefit of having been in the market and built up this resource over many years.  Obviously, Jancis is a prolific writer, and members value the topicality and sheer frequency of her updates.  The quality of the content has drawn a loyal membership base, with renewal rates over 50%, and this helps keep the forum active, as contributors feel part of a community.

Are you the next media pioneer?

If you feel your specialist media business deserves recognition, and you would like to enter the 2011 Media Pioneers awards, please contact me with a brief overview of your activities.  Overall winners will be announced at the Specialist Media Show in May 2011, but nominees will be featured on the show site.  Read more on last year’s Media Pioneer winners.

About the author: Carolyn  Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising media owners on how to profit from digital media and marketing. She is also content director for the Specialist Media Show. If you’d like an informal discussion about how you can develop new revenue sources for your specialist media business please contact Penmaen Media for a chat.