How to grow digital subscriptions

How to grow digital subscriptions

Both consumer and B2B publishers are now migrating to digital subscription models, whether that is bundled with a print publication or simply an online content paywall.  All are at different stages of the journey, but there are common themes that can be observed.  At Making Publishing Pay, four publishers shared their experiences, and what they have learned along the way.

Customer centric subscription strategy

Abi Spooner is Customer Strategy Officer at Dennis and has several years’ experience working on subscriptions for The Week and its related products.  At first Dennis were very focused on platform, and offered bundles of print, tablet and smartphone editions.  But they have learned that customers have very different approaches to consuming their content – and it is the editorial that comes first, not the platform.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of third-party subscription platforms, from Apple News to Readly, and many publishers are using these for sampling.  However, it is challenging to track whether sampling on platforms results in purchasing subscriptions.

The Week is now experimented with a dynamic metered paywall and email newsletters on its website, with the intention of converting causal web visitors to paying subscribers.

Current view is that subscription marketing activity needs to be customer centric and device neutral.

Becoming a community driven business

Marc Hartog is CEO of 1854 Media, which publishes the British Journal of Photography and a series of international photo awards.  They have recently moved to a membership proposition and anticipate that in 2020 they will become a 100% community funded business.

BJP is over 160 years old, and for many decades was funded by newsstand sales, print advertising, classified and recruitment.  But that has now disappeared, and it will soon move off the newsstand and be totally subscription funded.

The 1854 Access membership package includes free entry to five photo competitions as well as access to BJP content in print and digital.  It provides aspiring photographers with an opportunity to get their work seen more widely.  In its first year, volumes have grown 70%, with an even higher growth rate in international customers. And by the end of 2020, the business will be 100% community funded.

The print magazine has evolved to become more of a collectible, with high production values and a range of different papers.  The print edition still retains a cachet with photographers, and helps strengthen the brand.  But growth is highest in digital only subs for international customers.

Next, Marc wants to add further (online) benefits to the membership package and expand the growth of international customers, using the website as a hub for all content and services.

Professional Membership for the Business of Fashion

Nick Blunden is President of the Business of Fashion, a digital start up sometimes referred to as “The Economist of fashion,” which is appropriate given Nick was previously a senior executive at The Economist.

Launched by Imran Khan as a fashion blog connecting the creative world of fashion with the analytical rigour of business, BoF received investment funding, with the FT as a major backer.

In 2016 they launched a membership programme, “BoF Professional” to help individuals in the global fashion industry get better at their job.  Now 65% of their revenue comes from their members, whilst ad revenue and event sponsorship has continued to grow alongside.

The membership proposition includes insights into why certain trends are taking place in fashion, and also intelligence on what to do about it.  A series of events bring members together to learn from each other, in NYC, London and Shanghai.

Online education has been a large part of the value offered in the membership package.  There are a series of case studies and eight-hour online courses on for example, how to build a consumer brand.

BoF now have tens of thousands of members and are beginning to segment into groups.  Membership is popular among early career professionals and now BoF are keen to provide packages for different job roles.

The next step is developing enterprise level subscriptions, so that large global fashion organisations provide the suite of BoF services as a benefit to their staff.

Moving to enterprise subscriptions

Claire Jenkinson is Sales and Marketing Director at CRU, a specialist research and analysis provider in the mining sector.  They have always been focussed on premium subscriptions, and over the last few years have been migrating their individual customers to enterprise accounts.

Once a subscription service is well established with its customers, and there are a number of individual subscribers within large organisations, moving to enterprise subs can add users, and improve stickiness, leading to higher renewal rates.  A predominantly digital service has low marginal costs to add additional users.

Claire advises creating bands of licences, starting with up to 5 or up to 10 users, and starting to migrate individual subscribers into these bands.  Customers may trade up a division or a region of their organisation at first.  This can be a slow sales cycle but lays the foundations for trading up to larger size licences later.

If embarking on this journey, you need to invest in resource to help onboard new users, as the more they use the product in the early days, the better your renewal rates.  It also requires a different sales capability, driven by demonstrations and negotiating corporate procurement.  Thought also needs to be given to how to manage licence abuse and sharing of logins.

These case studies laid out the entire subscription journey, from identifying platforms to use to capture prospects into a marketing funnel, to packaging up membership propositions and moving towards enterprise subscriptions.

If you would like to discuss how to grow digital subscriptions for your media business please get in touch to organise an informal chat over the phone or over a coffee.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events.  A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.

Read more about Carolyn

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