- 29% of subscribers to digital publications plan to reduce the number of subscriptions they hold by the end of the year.
- 27% percent expect their subscription count to increase in the same timeframe.
- 53% canceled at least one subscription during the first half of the year.
Nearly a third of subscribers to digital publications say they plan to reduce the number of subscriptions they hold by the end of the year – but almost as many expect their tally to increase, according to new research by Toolkits and National Research Group.
As economic uncertainty intensifies and consumers look to manage their spending more closely, subscribers may be thinking more carefully about the value subscription products provide them, and whether they justify their cost.
Based on a study of 2,509 U.S. consumers, 27 percent of people who have at least one digital publication subscription said they plan to increase their total number of subscriptions by the end of the year, while 29 percent expect their subscription count to decrease in the same timeframe. Forty-four percent of respondents said they expect to end the year with the same number of total subscriptions.
Meanwhile, 53% of digital publication subscribers said they canceled at least one subscription during the first half of the year, while 19% claimed they have never canceled a subscription.
Previous research found that lack of use, price increases and poor value for money top the list of reasons consumers cancel subscriptions to digital publications.
An encouraging sign for subscription publishers is that consumers report a greater sense of loyalty towards publications they pay for than those they access for free. Forty-three percent of consumers with at least one digital subscription said they feel more loyalty towards publications they pay for, while 31 percent said they feel more loyalty towards free publications.
This stands to reason given that subscription products typically offer access to more premium content and features, that readers are financially invested, and that many publishers emphasize building habit, engagement and loyalty among paying subscribers bases.
Power subscribers grow their portfolios
The research also revealed that the more subscriptions people hold, the more they seem to want. Among respondents who hold five or more subscriptions, 44 percent said they plan to add more by year’s end. By contrast, 30 percent of respondents with two to five subscriptions said they plan to add more, dipping to 14 percent for those who subscribe to a single publication.
That finding provides further evidence that a relatively small but highly engaged group of “power subscribers” accounts for an outsized portion of subscriptions held in the U.S. But as some consumers cut back on subscriptions, it also implies that publishers may be increasingly reliant on a relatively small total audience for their subscription revenues.
Strong demand from power subscribers is a positive signal for publishers, but many would prefer to diversify and expand their subscriber bases beyond this group if possible. Publishers across the board could find themselves in difficult positions if power subscribers begin to make deep cuts to their portfolios, or simply fail to add new subscriptions quickly enough to offset cancelations from less engaged groups.
Implications for publishers
The data imply that subscribers will continue to think more critically about the value for money that publishers’ subscription products deliver them. The findings highlight three important considerations for publishers as they begin to look forward to a potentially difficult 2023.
Delivering value is essential
Consumers say poor product value is a leading reason they cancel subscriptions, and as they scrutinize their spending more closely it’s incumbent on publishers to clearly deliver and communicate value for money around their products. Publishers may find that more focused offerings designed to provide deep value to specific portions of their audiences are perceived as more valuable than broader products with complicated or vague value propositions that require audiences to work harder to derive value and/or justify their purchase
Flexibility can drive retention
Against a challenging economic backdrop, publishers that are willing to be flexible and adapt to subscribers’ changing needs and constraints may find themselves better equipped to drive strong subscriber retention. This may include offering price-sensitive subscribers temporary price reductions, access to shorter subscription terms, downgrade options, and attractive rates for longer commitments.
Attracting first-time subscribers can unlock growth
Power subscribers may have proved relatively easy to convert to date, but the data suggest this group could be approaching saturation point in terms of the number of digital subscriptions they’ll maintain on a long-term basis. Attracting, educating and converting portions of the 63 percent of consumers who have never held a digital publication subscription will therefore be a focus for those publishers hunting for subscriber growth in 2023 and beyond.
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 2,509 U.S. consumers aged 18-64 and was conducted in August 2022. Participants were selected to be nationally representative (based on most recent US census data) in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and income.