Subscription technology provider Piano released its second annual benchmark report last week. The company’s tech is embedded on hundreds of publisher sites so it has good visibility into subscriber trends developing across the industry, although it didn’t disclose during what timeframe the data were collected.
This year’s installment included a handful of noteworthy data points:
“Sleepers” now comprise 43% of subscribers for the average publisher
That number is up from the 39% the company reported in 2021, suggesting publishers are increasingly relying on revenue from subscribers who don’t actually use the products they’re paying for. (Piano defines sleepers as subscribers who have not accessed a site or service they have an active subscription to within the last 30 days.)
Combating sleeper subscribers effectively is critical for building a sustainable subscription business. Relying on revenue from users who are unaware they’re paying for a product — and/or see no value in it — is simply not a viable long-term strategy. As we detailed in our guide to managing sleeper subscribers, publishers can reduce sleepers by instituting effective onboarding processes, promoting regular product engagement, and formulating campaigns to “wake” sleeper subscribers carefully. Publishers reliant on revenues from large portions of sleepers should also ask themselves honest questions about the nature and value of the products they’re delivering.
A third of all active churn happens within 24 hours after conversion
Nearly one third of new subscribers cancel subscriptions or disable renewal within 24 hours of purchasing a subscription, Piano said. A portion of immediate cancellations can be explained by users looking to access single pieces of content or only requiring access to products for a finite period of time, but it’s likely that many subscribers want to gauge how valuable a product is before committing to ongoing renewals. This stands to reason: Why would audiences commit to ongoing payment when they know they can resubscribe at any point – and likely for a reduced price? Disabling auto-renew or canceling subscriptions immediately after purchase is a prudent approach, particularly as consumers look to control their spending more closely.
The reality is the hard work of “selling” a subscription begins after a new conversion takes place, particularly for publishers that offer discounted trials and other promotional offers. A new subscriber might have committed a few dollars to try a product out, but building relationships to the point that subscribers are happy paying on an ongoing basis is a different challenge entirely. Effective subscriber onboarding strategies are therefore critical for driving renewals in the early stages of a subscriber relationship. During this initial period, expectations are set, immediate product engagement can be encouraged, and powerful early value perceptions are formed.
Turning registered users into subscribers takes time
Just 20% of subscribers in Piano’s dataset converted within a month of registering with a publisher site, while the vast majority did so between two and 12 months later. As we’ve detailed previously, registration is a powerful step on the path to subscription conversion, and a growing number of publishers are now using registration walls as an integral part of their product approaches. In order to turn registered users into paying subscribers, however, publishers must ensure they have robust long-term strategies in place to build engagement and drive demand over time, and that they’re tracking the right metrics and key performance indicators to get an accurate understanding of what tactics drive successful outcomes and why.
Audiences are more likely to subscribe if they reach publishers via multiple channels
Relying on single channels or tactics for traffic is a precarious position for publishers to be in general, but Piano’s data suggest that a diverse traffic mix can help boost subscription conversions significantly. Audiences are far more likely to become subscribers if they reach publishers’ sites via multiple channels such as search, social media and other sources, Piano said: Users referred to publishers’ sites from 4-5 different channels had a conversion rate of 2.37%, dropping to 1.21% for three referral channels and 0.04% for one.
Reaching audiences across multiple channels and platforms remains essential for building robust publishing brands, and robust brands remain a core driver for the majority of successful subscription businesses. Publishers looking to build trust and engagement with audiences to the point that they’ll consider subscribing should ensure they’re reaching audiences across multiple touchpoints.
Mobile visitors convert at a much lower rate than desktop ones
After clicking subscription offers, users on mobile devices are half as likely to convert to a paid subscription as desktop users, Piano said. This can be explained by a number of factors, including that subscription offers often appear more appealing on larger screens, mobile checkout processes are often more cumbersome than desktop ones, and the majority of casual browsing now takes place on mobile devices. In our experience, the dynamic is even more pronounced for some publishers than others. (Business-focused publishers, for example, often see drastically higher conversion rates on desktop devices for example, while lifestyle publishers often convert more effectively on mobile than publishers in other categories.)
To boost mobile conversion rates publishers should work to streamline the mobile checkout process wherever possible and, depending on the nature of their products and audiences, experiment with tactics to engage mobile users at a later date via desktop devices.