Developing a premium subscription proposition


For some of your readers, your content is, or could be, completely essential to their business or profession.   Did you know that some media businesses are charging up to £10k pa for premium subscription products and achieving 90% renewal rates?

So how can you package analysis, data, insights, forecasts, contact databases, networking and more into a subscription proposition that you can price at £ thousands rather than £ hundreds?

At the Media Briefing’s recent conference, Monetising Media, I led a group discussion on developing premium subscriptions, with publishers from professional associations, large scale consumer titles, niche B2B and mainstream business publishers, some with a print heritage, others digital-only.

All had freely available web-based content, and some had low-ticket subscriptions where digital content is bundled with a printed magazine.

The challenge is shifting from subscription price points in the £50-£200pa range to establishing higher value propositions.

However, it is still important to maintain a free content proposition, to build up both a reputation for quality, and a marketing database for subscription promotion.

The group explored how the approach to developing higher value propositions differs in consumer and business markets:

Membership propositions in consumer markets

In consumer markets, the focus needs to be on developing a “membership” proposition. Here publishers can borrow from the approaches taken by art galleries and other charitable organisations.

By focussing on a specialist interest group, a publisher can offer VIP access or exclusive events, and the opportunity to meet like-minded people at social occasions or on trips.   Care needs to be taken to avoid creating an expensive series of reader events, maybe by bolting on VIP experiences to existing events.

Readers do highly value access to editorial experts, or the specialists and influencers that established publications can easily access, which provide “bragging rights” within their own social circle. Publishers also explore access to learning new skills and techniques.

The first step though, is to identify the size of the premium segment within your audience, and research them to identify what elements of a membership proposition would be most valuable: whether additional content, special deals and offers, exclusive events, VIP access to experts, or an online community.

In larger, more affluent markets, it’s worth exploring tiered propositions at different price points, echoing the structure of arts organisations who have friends, donors and benefactors.

Adding extra value to B2B subscriptions

Business customers are more amenable to higher value subscription propositions as they can justify them on the basis of saving time and money, winning new business, networking or developing their professional skills.

Again the initial step is to identify segments of the audience who have greater budgets, assess their relative size and explore where there are frustrations or information gaps that a publisher can fill. Collating proprietary and external data into an easily understandable form, to enable subscribers to understand trends, identify prospects and pitch more efficiently, has proven a lucrative move for many b2b publishers.

The networking value of subscriber-only events is particularly important in b2b markets, where subscribers are keen to share best practice or make contact with prospective clients.

Professional membership organisations have often bundled events, helplines, use of central facilities and access to learning and professional development into their proposition. RCNi has recently introduced an e-learning portal for nurses – they offer an enhanced subscription at £8.60 a month (compared to £5.50 a month for the journal only) which offers unlimited access to online learning modules accredited for CPD.

Data that is currently buried in articles can be extracted and turned into usable databases, and predictive tools. Rights Tracker, from Electric Word, paid interns to extract key data on broadcast sponsorship deals from the TVSM newsletter and input into databases that generated visualisations of trends that formed part of a high ticket subscription service.

HSJ Intelligence aggregates information and contacts on NHS buying groups and presents them in an easily usable and continuously updated tool for suppliers selling into the NHS, enhanced with analysis and insight from the editorial team. To develop this product, they invited eight prospective customers in as an advisory group from a very early stage. The product sells for over £10k pa and has a very high renewal rate.

Tiered pricing is even more appropriate in b2b markets. Global Coffee Monitor, a new data product launch from Briefing Media, offers basic online access at £1000pa, an enhanced service with exclusive analyst reports at £3500pa and a premium service with bespoke analysis at a much higher price point.

So the conclusion was that each market has to develop its own portfolio of premium subscription offers, based around detailed knowledge of the audience and the information gaps that a publisher could fill, plus their level of interest in meeting like-minded peers.

If you have experience of developing a premium subscription product, or would like to discuss how you could identify opportunities for your media brand, do get in touch for a chat.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on the topic of digital publishing strategy for media sector publishers and events.