The wild digital frontier of subs marketing: pioneers required

In the last couple of years subscriptions have been a safe haven for publishers from the volatility of the newsstand, and the unpredictability of advertising.  The world of traditional print subs hasn’t changed that much; the tried and tested principles of pricing, payment method, acquisition and renewal techniques still apply;  the universal truths of DD and number of renewal efforts still hold and change comes only slowly.  However there is a new digital frontier emerging which doesn’t respect the old rules.  Many subs marketers are less comfortable with the more experimental, wild west of digital editions, single issue pricing, bundling with online content subs  and mobile apps.  Here’s some insights from the  recent Wessenden report on subs marketing (sponsored by CDS Global and in partnership with InPublishing) that may guide pioneering digital subs marketers:

1. Digital marketing channels growing

Almost half of all subs are now sourced via digital channels, including publishers own websites, third party subs services and email marketing.  All three sources are growing fast, and for b2b publishers email already accounts for 20% of subscriber acquisition, rivalling publishers own websites.  While online subs agents are a small source now at 6%, they are expected to grow.

2. Digital editions moving from free facsimile sample to independent product

A year or so ago, digital editions were a simple replica of print publications, and were used as a free sample for the “real” print subscription.  Now 67% of consumer publishers use digital editions, and of these 75% are paid-for, 51% are added value for print subscribers and 31% are used for overseas subscribers.  86% of b2b publishers use digital editions, of whom 28% are paid-for, 53% are added value, 39% sent to overseas subscribers and 28% sent to fringe or free lists.  As digital editions develop into stand-alone products, the proportion commanding a cover price is likely to increase.

3. Mobile apps developing into paid-for products

Mobile apps are still in a minority; only 20% of publishers already have an app, but more are planning them.  Interestingly, they are more likely to be considered as a paid-for product or as part of a paid subscription than digital editions, and less likely to be used as a free alternative to fringe or overseas subscribers.

4. Consumer publishers bundling services for subscribers

Consumer publishers are now creating a bundle of services for their subscribers, with the most popular elements being product offers, a subscriber newsletter and reader events, with digital editions and web content close behind.  Full loyalty clubs are declining somewhat.

5. B2B publishers adding digital value to subscriber packages

Business publishers are also creating subscriber packages, but here the emphasis is on digital content, with exclusive web content, digital editions and subs newsletters the most popular elements, probably driven by the greater emphasis on data and research content.  A substantial minority of b2b publishers are reducing the frequency of their print products as they become a less central part of their subs proposition.

The Wessenden Subs Marketing Report surveyed 122 companies from across the publishing industry.  You can download a copy from the CDS Global site.

If you feel your company is a pioneer in digital susbcription marketing, we’d be interested to hear your experiences. Please comment below, or join the Specialist Media Network on linked-in to swap ideas with over 400 other specialist media people.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan runs Penmaen Media, advising specialist media businesses on their digital strategy.  She is also Content Director for the Specialist Media Show.  If you’d like to discuss your digital subscription strategy please contact us for an initial chat.