Converting new subscribers is proving more challenging as economic conditions force consumers and businesses to curtail their spending. As a result, many publishers are placing a stronger emphasis on retention efforts as they seek to protect and maintain their existing subscriber bases and revenues heading into 2023.
The most powerful retention driver for publishers remains the ability to deliver high-quality, differentiated products on a consistent basis, and those unable to do so may find themselves in difficult situations as discretionary spending contracts and “nice to have” products quickly become easy cost-saving opportunities in subscribers’ eyes.
But even for publishers with high-value subscription offerings, increased flexibility will become a necessity as subscribers are forced to make difficult choices about where and how they allocate their dollars. Publishers that are willing to adapt to subscribers’ changing needs and constraints find themselves better equipped to drive healthy retention during difficult periods.
Flexibility in a few simple areas can help reduce churn and provide positive subscriber experiences by ensuring relationships don’t end unceremoniously simply because publishers are unable to meet their customers halfway. These include:
Shorter subscription terms
Renewing long-term subscriptions is a daunting prospect for subscribers during periods of heightened uncertainty, but providing the option to move to shorter term lengths can make them feel more at ease. Those reluctant to renew on annual terms might be comfortable renewing for three months, for example, while those on three-month terms might be convinced to stay on board if they are allowed to pay month-to-month. During the early days of the pandemic, travel publisher Skift offered annual subscribers to its research product the option to switch to monthly terms instead of canceling, for example. The company said the decision helped keep large numbers of subscribers on board during a period of crisis for the travel industry, and many of them remain subscribed today.
Greater product and feature flexibility
For products that provide access to multiple features, offering subscribers the ability to downgrade and pay less to access only the features they deem valuable can prove highly effective for keeping subscribers in the fold. As we’ve outlined previously, we expect to see publishers increasingly “unbundling” subscription features and positioning them as standalone products for this exact reason: It enables publishers to lower barriers to entry for users looking for access to specific content while allowing publishers to extract greater revenue from premium “bundles” for subscribers who crave access to more. Allowing subscribers to downgrade to basic tiers or single features leaves the door open to growing those relationships down the road as conditions and needs shift.
Temporary price reductions
When offering retention or winback price reductions, publishers should be careful not to create the perception that subscribers can simply dictate their own prices. Nonetheless, price breaks pegged to temporary circumstances — such as sudden economic downturns — can prove effective at keeping subscribers on board with the understanding that those rates may rise again in the future. And as we’ve covered previously, retention discounts aren’t just about clinging on to subscription revenue. Keeping subscribers on board – even at reduced rates – can benefit other parts of publishers’ businesses and keep readers engaged with their brands and content rather than simply bringing a relationship to a complete halt.
Reduced rates in exchange for longer commitments
For price-conscious subscribers or those subscribed to multiple similar products, offering reduced rates in exchange for longer commitments can prove effective for locking in relationships and revenue during difficult periods. Discounted annual and two-year terms are common choices, while some publishers have even experimented with “lifetime” or 50-year subscriptions.
Already popular with streaming services and software tools, the ability to “pause” subscriptions can be offered to customers as an alternative to canceling them outright. Pause features are often used by subscribers to “test” what they’ll miss out on before canceling subscriptions entirely and, when coupled with dedicated campaigns, can provide publishers an opportunity to reinforce and resell the value of their products before final cancellation decisions are made.
Responsive customer service
When it comes to providing flexibility to subscribers, responsive customer service teams and quick and seamless communication channels (such as on-site chat functionality) are essential. Subscribers are far more likely to simply cancel their subscriptions – knowing they can renew at any time – than to hunt around to identify their options in account pages and FAQs. As a result, it’s incumbent on publishers to ensure that representatives are readily available to talk through their options and help work out solutions quickly and easily.
Flexibility will be a key theme for publishers’ retention efforts heading into 2023, and one we expect to see extend across their subscription products and operations as competition for subscriber dollars becomes increasingly fierce.