Last month, we surveyed Toolkits’ reader and client base to better understand the challenges publishers face as they grow their subscription and membership products. The survey went to thousands of professionals and executives working on subscription and membership businesses at a wide range of publishers and media companies.
After collecting and analyzing responses, a handful of recurring themes emerged. Subscriber acquisition and retention unsurprisingly topped the list, but other difficulties highlighted by respondents included better use of data and analytics, more effective pricing and promotional approaches, and how to identify which emerging technologies and tools are worth investing time and money in.
Subscriber acquisition was top of mind for many respondents – which is to be expected – but specific challenges included growing top-of-funnel audiences, finding new channels and levers through which to reach and convert new subscribers, converting larger portions of existing audiences to paid relationships, and moving users from free trials to paid plans.
Respondents also said they were thinking carefully about how best to attract and convert new subscribers during a difficult economic climate. “How do we prove our value in a new and exciting way that will be enough to get someone to pay for our product?” one asked.
Retention and churn
Retention and churn mitigation followed new subscriber acquisition as the second-most common challenge. Concerns included building habits and driving ongoing engagement among subscribers, using data and analytics to identify churn risk subscribers more effectively, and benchmarking retention and churn performance accurately to better understand where improvements should be made.
Data and analytics
A large portion of respondents pointed to data and analytics as a challenge and/or an untapped opportunity for their businesses. Some said shortcomings in their existing approaches are resulting in missed opportunities to both attract and retain subscribers, while others are now investing more heavily in analytics and data capabilities as their businesses continue to grow. A handful of smaller publishers said they felt at a disadvantage compared with larger and more established companies with access to bigger budgets and more sophisticated tools. “It’s hard to understand where data is making a real difference, and when we’re investing in it for the sake of it,” one respondent said.
Pricing and promotional strategies
How best to price products and structure offers and promotions remains a hot topic for publishers and one that was reflected in responses to our survey. Some admitted they did not know if their pricing was too high or too low – or how to gauge what price points for their products should be. Others expressed doubt that the current trend towards long, low-priced introductory offers is good for their business beyond the short term.
One respondent referred to “offer mania” and expressed a desire to get off the promotional “hamster wheel” that some publishers feel has been thrust upon them by the broader market. Recent Toolkits research found that 75% of large publishers offered free or discounted subscription trials in June, and that publishers reduced their promotional subscription prices by 16% in July, on average. As I’ve written previously, however, discounted subscription trials and promo offers are here to stay for the foreseeable future, largely because audiences have been trained to expect them.
Technology and tools
Another common set of challenges identified by a significant portion of respondents related to the use of new technologies and tools. Specifically: which are essential or at least worthwhile to invest in, and which could prove risky in terms of time, money and attention. Examples included artificial intelligence, dynamic paywalls, content personalization and recommendation systems, and advanced analytics tools. Publishers with smaller budgets expressed difficulty in gauging how much they should invest in their technology stack, and how to go about striking an optimal balance between functionality and price.