Subscription strategies: 3 key learnings

Sovrn Publisher Advocate // June 3, 2020

subscription strategies:

Subscription rates have surged since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. In this recap of our most recent Publisher’s Corner, Abi Spooner of UK publisher Dennis led a conversation on strategies for reader subscriptions. Discussion ranged from subscription performance during coronavirus, to focusing on what readers need most, to the necessity of moving quickly. We’ve broken out a few key learnings below. The full video is available here.

Know your priorities, know your data

For Dennis, adapting to COVID-19 meant adjusting priorities. Subscriptions make up one-third of Dennis’ media revenue, and the team knew they had to be flexible. Thankfully, Abi said, “A symptom of COVID seems to be an urge to buy subscriptions.” Dennis has seen a massive surge across their whole portfolio, and that increase is holding strong.

However, with advertising “Hugely difficult” right now, Abi’s team focused on getting results from proven strategies. “That meant prioritizing reader lifetime value,” she said. “We completely revisited all marketing channels to optimize by lifetime value in order to get the most immediate return on investment.”

Part of that, she said, has shown her “How important rock-solid reporting is, and understanding what your renewals and lifetime value looks like.”

Be reader-focused

Success comes from giving your reader what they want. Dennis has given all of their subscribers digital access for this period. In addition, by providing home-teaching packs to parents whose children are no longer in school, Dennis has generated a lot of goodwill. “That’s how you build relationships,” Abi said. 

For Leslie Coathup of Luma Works, that meant offering no-commitment subscriptions, as well as cleverly-packaged bundles. Now, his focus is on understanding exactly who these new subscribers are, “Getting to know them,” and in some cases adjusting offerings to fit reader needs.

“If [new subscribers] are coming because of the lack of commitment, then actually maybe we need to look at more flexible non-commitment type of subscription plans going forward,” he said. “That works incredibly well for subscription boxes, maybe some of that could work in terms of a magazine subscription.”

In all cases, the goal is to take the recent influx of subscribers, and make their presence permanent.

Be flexible

In the absence of market certainty, publishers need to move quickly. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Abi. “So focusing on that customer-centric side of the company [subscriptions] will hopefully be a real engine behind Dennis once everything starts to open up.”

Steve Hemsley of Care Home Management emphasized the need to respond to reader concerns. He also noted the importance of experimenting, and said that the pandemic has taught him how quickly you can make things happen: “[You’ve got to] stick your entrepreneur’s hat on and say ‘OK,we’ve got to think about this thing differently.’” For example, he’s done a series of sponsored podcasts specifically related to coronavirus concerns, and all have gone down well. 

No matter what the case, the group agrees that you can’t let decision paralysis keep you from the market, because the world’s moving too quickly right now. By the time you’ve made a decision, things may have moved on. As Leslie says, “It’s being able to move quickly that will be able to get us hopefully through this and out the other side better.”

“The entire marketing strategy has been thrown out,” he said. “And now we need another one again, for moving on to whatever the new reality is going to be.”

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