This is the fourth installment in a series exploring consumer attitudes to publishers’ digital subscription products, based on research conducted by Toolkits and NRG. New readers can sign up here to receive new data as it’s published.
- 85% of consumers are satisfied with the value for money they get from publishers’ subscription products, up from 75% in 2022.
- Engagement with publisher subscriptions is growing : 68% of subscribers say they utilize their subscriptions daily compared with 58% in 2022.
- High cost (36%), too much advertising (28%) and irrelevant content (26%) are the top reasons for subscriber dissatisfaction.
More consumers are satisfied with the value for money they get from publishers’ digital subscription products now than in 2022, according to new research conducted by Toolkits and National Research Group.
In a study of 1,007 U.S. consumers who subscribe to digital publications, 85% reported being “completely” or “mostly” satisfied with the value for money they receive from their subscriptions, up from 75% in August 2022. Twelve percent reported being “somewhat satisfied”, while just 3% said they were “mostly unsatisfied” or “not at all satisfied”.
Engagement with publishers’ subscription products appears to be growing as well. Sixty-eight percent of consumers said they now access paid content from their subscriptions on a daily basis, up from 58% last year. Meanwhile, the portion of consumers who subscribe to at least one digital publication they do not visit at least once a month has dropped to 27% from 46% in 2022.
The increases suggest that publishers are doing a better job of engaging and delivering value to subscribers, that consumers are canceling subscriptions they don’t regularly engage with – or a combination of the two.
Among subscribers who were not fully satisfied with the value for money they received from publishers’ subscription products, cost, advertising load, and content relevancy were cited as the top reasons for their dissatisfaction. Other top concerns included a lack of content variety, content quality, and a lack of frequency.
Few respondents cited overall content consistency, app and website design, or poor customer service as reasons for their dissatisfaction.
Implications for publishers
Increased focus on value and engagement could be paying off
In an effort to grow subscriber retention and loyalty, many publishers have focused their efforts and resources on promoting product engagement and better communicating the value of their offerings over the past 12-18 months. The data suggest those efforts are being recognized by consumers, who reported clear increases in both their value perceptions and engagement levels over that period. Engagement and value will likely prove more important than ever heading into 2024, and as canceling and moving between subscriptions becomes easier, publishers with the stickiest products and the most compelling propositions will be best positioned for success.
Consumers may be cutting low-value subscriptions from their portfolios
Another possible explanation for engagement and value perception increases is that subscribers are managing their subscriptions more carefully and weeding out those they glean little value from or interact rarely with. As consumers become more familiar with subscription products and sample a variety through trials and low-priced introductory offers, they might simply be voting with their wallets and gravitating towards the ones that deliver them the most value. As the market for publishers’ subscription products matures, consumers will increasingly allocate their subscription dollars based on the strength of the underlying content and features on offer.
Subscribers are increasingly displeased by advertising
Among subscribers who were not fully satisfied with the value for money they received from publishers’ subscription products, advertising load was cited as a key reason. Aversion to advertising within subscription products appears to be growing, too, with 28% highlighting “too many advertisements” as a key reason for their dissatisfaction, up significantly from 19% in 2023.
This shift in sentiment coincides with a difficult economic period for publishers, many of which are seeking to maximize both advertising and subscription revenues in an effort to sustain their businesses. In many instances that’s led to increases in advertising loads across publishers’ properties and the introduction of advertising within previously “ad-free” subscriber experiences. Publishers are also able to monetize their logged-in users and paying subscribers much more effectively than other portions of their audiences, thanks largely to the availability of powerful first-party data to help inform targeting and measurement. Some publishers have specifically stepped up their efforts to monetize subscriber attention via advertising as a result, which could explain subscribers’ growing distaste.
Subscribers say they remain sensitive to cost
Conversations about pricing have moved front and center for publishers as they hunt for ways to grow revenue per subscriber and maximize yield from their existing subscriber bases. Many are now exploring how best to increase their pricing and migrate subscribers on cheap (and often long) introductory terms to more lucrative ones. The data show that – despite receiving value for money from publishers’ subscription products broadly – consumers do remain sensitive to their costs. Among subscribers who were not fully satisfied with the value their subscriptions provided, 36% highlighted cost as a primary reason, up from 31% last year. Complaints about cost and price are typical for any paid product, but the sentiments are worth noting for publishers looking to raise their pricing in the months ahead.
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.