The majority of large publishers with digital subscription products are currently offering discounted trials to help drive new subscriber acquisition.
Toolkits examined the 100 most popular subscription sites among US audiences and found that 75% offered either discounted or free trials to new subscribers in June.
Among the 75 subscription publishers offering discounted trials:
- The vast majority offered paid trials (93.3%), while 6.6% made trials available for free.
- 76% promoted a single term or offer only.
- 66% offered relatively long trial periods of 3 months or more.
- Average trial length for primary trial offers came in at 7 months (28 weeks).
Among the 25 subscription publishers that did not offer discounted trials:
- Most provided greater flexibility around payment, with 71% offering at least two subscription terms. (Only 24% of publishers offering discounted trials presented more than one term or offer.)
- Over half were in the “Politics” category in terms of their content focus.
The research findings speak to many of the themes and trends we’ve been exploring in recent months and regularly advise clients around. Specifically:
Discounted trials do help drive conversions
Trials and promotional offers are now an integral part of most publishers’ subscriber acquisition strategies, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon for one key reason: They continue to prove an effective growth driver for sustainable subscription businesses.
The vast majority of publishers see an increase in conversions when offering trials and promotions compared with when they don’t, largely because trials lower barriers to entry and offer a low-risk opportunity for audiences to sample a product without committing to a full-price subscription. Trials can also prove effective for reaching beyond publishers’ most engaged audience segments to reach those that may be less certain of the value they will derive from a product without experiencing it first.
Audiences now expect discounted trials
Since they’re now commonplace across the market, publishers have effectively trained audiences to expect trials and discounts when beginning a paying relationship. Publishers that don’t offer them are simply making life difficult for themselves in most instances, although some may opt to avoid trials and offers in an attempt to differentiate themselves from competition or to communicate more “premium” positioning regardless.
Publishers are shifting to fewer terms and offers
Major subscription publishers are now moving away from arrays of subscription terms, tiers and packages in favor of offering just one or two options. The New York Times currently offers U.S. consumers just one 4-week subscription option, for example, while The Wall Street Journal sells a monthly subscription only. Among the 75 publishers in our sample offering discounted trials, 57 were promoting a single term or offer only.
Paid trials are more effective than free ones
Generally speaking, paid trials prove far more effective at driving full-price conversions and maximizing revenue than free trials do. Where possible, publishers should always require payment in exchange for access to their content, even if it’s a nominal fee for a short-term trial. (93% of publishers in our sample offering trials opted to charge for them.) This has a number of advantages, including ensuring users are somewhat invested in the product, setting audience expectations around a clear value exchange, and smoothing future transactions by ensuring payment details are collected early in the relationship.
Long trial periods drive greater revenue
In our experience working with a range of publishers, longer trial periods almost always help increase conversion and retention rates, maximize subscriber lifetime value and drive greater revenue. Longer trial periods come with a number of advantages over short ones, including the ability for publishers to promote consistent consumption and engagement from users – and demonstrate value to them on an ongoing basis – before attempting to increase their rates. Among the 75 publishers in our sample offering discounted trials, 66% promised reduced pricing for relatively long periods of three months or more, with the average discounted rate remaining in effect for seven months.
Trials are more effective with some audiences and products than others
Depending on the nature of the content and products on offer, trials may prove less effective or necessary for some publishers than others. Professional audiences may be less enticed by trials, for example, if access to certain content and information is a business necessity and/or where the subscriber isn’t footing the bill themselves. Similar dynamics often apply with highly political content, while the opposite is often true for lifestyle, sports or entertainment publishers. Notably, of the 25 publishers in our sample that did not offer discounted trials, over half fell in the “Politics” category in terms of their content focus.