This is the first installment in a series exploring consumer attitudes to publishers’ digital subscription products, based on exclusive research conducted by Toolkits and National Research Group.
- 67% of consumers say they would be more likely to subscribe to digital publications if the process of canceling subscriptions was easier.
- 77% would support a law mandating “one-click cancellation” for digital publications, and 51% have encountered difficulties when canceling digital publication subscriptions.
Most U.S. consumers say they would be more likely to subscribe to digital publications if the process of canceling subscriptions was easier, according to research conducted by Toolkits and National Research Group.
A study of 1,007 U.S. consumers who have subscribed to digital publications found that 67% would more readily purchase new subscriptions if they thought those subscriptions could be canceled easily. Seventy-seven percent of consumers also said they would support a law mandating “one-click cancelation” mechanisms.
Consumers’ experiences with publishers’ cancelation processes vary. Just over half – 51% – said that they encountered at least some difficulties during their last attempt to cancel a subscription. Forty-nine percent described the process as “easy and straightforward.”
Implications for publishers
Easy cancelation could boost conversions
Converting new subscribers is becoming increasingly challenging for many publishers as competition for consumer attention intensifies and they begin to search for growth beyond their most engaged and loyal audience segments. The data suggest that easier cancelation processes could actually help publishers drive incremental conversions and revenue: If consumers are confident they can easily cancel subscriptions, they might be more likely to subscribe in the first place. Converting subscribers is not the same as engaging and retaining them, of course, but publishers who give consumers complete control over how and when they’re charged might find they’re able to convert more easily.
Consumer support for “click-to-cancel” requirements is clear
Dark patterns, confusing cancelation flows, and forcing subscribers to call or chat with representatives may help publishers reduce churn, but they’re increasingly irking both consumers and regulators. Consumer support for the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed “click-to-cancel” rule in the U.S. is evident: 77% of respondents said they would support a law mandating “one-click cancelation”, and 51% said they have encountered difficulties when attempting to cancel a subscription.
Public comments to the FTC’s proposal tell a similar story: Consumers are frustrated by the subscription practices employed by many companies and would support any changes that give them greater control over how and when they’re charged. Meanwhile, The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill is seeking to reform U.K. law to further protect consumers from practices including “subscription traps”, and in France, a decree has entered into force requiring that businesses allow consumers to cancel subscriptions and contracts online in three clicks or fewer.
Product value is increasingly essential for driving retention
As greater control is placed in the hands of consumers, luring consumers with creative marketing hooks and attempting to trap them with legalese and technicalities is not a viable strategy. Consumers will increasingly allocate their dollars based on the underlying and ongoing value that publishers’ subscription products provide, rendering the use of aggressive marketing and retention tactics less effective over time. As the market for publishers’ subscription products begins to mature and consumers become more familiar with their offerings, publishers without differentiated and demonstrably valuable subscription products may struggle to compete.
Transparency is becoming a differentiator
Publishers go to great lengths to position their editorial output as trustworthy, transparent, accurate, and accountable, but convoluted cancelation practices threaten to undermine those promises in many instances. As consumers become more familiar with subscription models and their dynamics, aggressive and misleading retention approaches increasingly risk damaging publishers’ editorial credibility. The risk is particularly pronounced for news publishers, whose subscription offerings are frequently oriented around access to trustworthy reporting, unbiased journalism, and greater accountability to their subscriber bases.
Consumer control results in clearer value signals
Cleaner and more transparent data around subscriber preferences and value perceptions might help publishers improve their subscription offerings, tailor their content more effectively to subscriber interests, and optimize their pricing strategies and approaches accordingly. No subscription business likes churn, but easier cancelation processes may give them greater visibility into who finds value in their products and why.
Methodology: Research was conducted by Toolkits and National Research Group, a global research and insights firm that works with the world’s largest content creators and marketers. The study surveyed 1,007 U.S. consumers aged 18-64 who reported having a current or previous subscription to at least one digital publication and was conducted in October 2023. The audience for this sample was weighted to reflect the pool of total subscribers to digital publications in the U.S., based on a larger market-sizing study of 6,562 consumers.