For publishers that have succeeded in building valuable and differentiated subscription products, a shift in how they position and market those offerings is underway.
Many are now deliberately distancing themselves from the vague product promises, confusing feature sets, exuberant marketing and convoluted pricing structures that have become commonplace in recent years, opting instead to package and price their subscription products as simply and clearly as possible. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, the ability to succinctly communicate what subscribers get access to, why it’s valuable, how much it will cost them and when they’ll be charged is now table stakes for any publisher looking to drive subscriber growth.
A slow move toward simpler subscription offerings has been underway for years as publishers’ products have gradually been honed and optimized based on subscriber reception. That trend is now accelerating quickly, however, as the global economic outlook worsens and consumers and businesses across the board scrutinize their spending more carefully.
Prospective subscribers now want to know exactly what value they’re getting for their money and on what terms, and publishers that fail to communicate that information simply and effectively will increasingly struggle to grow their subscriber bases.
This shift to simplicity and clarity for subscription publishers is resulting in:
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Fewer terms and offers
Major subscription publishers are now moving away from arrays of subscription terms, tiers and packages in favor of offering just one or two options. The New York Times currently offers U.S. consumers just one 4-week subscription option, for example, while The Wall Street Journal sells a monthly subscription only. (4-week subscriptions terms allow for more frequent billing cycles than monthly ones.) Similarly, German news publisher Bild recently ditched its approach of offering multiple subscription packages to offer just one access level instead, with options to pay on either a monthly or annual basis.
More straightforward pricing
As consumers get more savvy about pricing tricks and subtle misdirections commonly used by publishers, a growing number are opting to move away from convoluted math puzzles and dark patterns when marketing their subscription offers in favor of much more transparent and direct approaches. Simple offers of “$X every 4 weeks” or “$Y per year” are becoming more commonplace as audiences lose patience with publishers that intentionally attempt to obfuscate their pricing. This approach bucks the conventional wisdom that multiple offers and “decoy” pricing helps publishers extract greater revenue from their audiences. But simpler, clearer pricing structures provide a significantly improved experience for users, and publishers can still effectively upsell and cross-sell readers on other tiers and packages once they’re subscribed rather than attempting to do so at initial conversion.
Sharper value propositions
Now more than ever, subscribers are looking for clear and tangible value to justify subscription purchases. Products firmly oriented around solving simple problems or satisfying specific audience needs typically perform far better than those with complicated or vague value propositions that are a “nice to have” or require audiences to work to justify a subscription purchase. Simple value propositions are easier for some publishers to arrive at than others depending on the nature of their content, audiences and other variables, but many could benefit from thinking more carefully about the specific value their products deliver and sharpening their product packaging and messaging accordingly.
Easily understood features
For many audiences, long lists of subscriber benefits and features aren’t nearly as impressive or appealing as publishers like to think. Less is often more, and simpler products are often deemed more valuable than those padded with second-rate features that can dilute the core value a product provides or divert attention away from it. Publishers taking the smorgasbord approach to subscriber features might find that simplifying their products around one or two high-value features can help build a much more compelling case for subscription. (Exceptions apply, of course. Publishers such as The New York Times have seen success in piecing together a selection of premium features under one subscription, including Games, Cooking, and now sports via its acquisition of the Athletic.)
Clearer content delineation and labeling
Intentionally or otherwise, many publishers continue to make it difficult to understand what content is reserved for paying subscribers and why. Publishers with strong value propositions are increasingly creating clear and simple distinctions between their different content classes, and labeling content more prominently. Clear content delineation and labeling is also essential for those publishers moving towards freemium subscription models.