Subscription Website Triple Play: When Three Offers are Better than One

Why product, price, and offer have never been more important

The rush to create and sell digital information products is leaving a lot of money on the table. While I believe every publisher should be partnering with Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Zinio to sell digital magazines, newsletters, and books, the opportunity is much larger.

The one-size-fits-all nature of digital retailing limits the offer options available to a talented subscription marketer. Further, because there are more than 100,000 magazines and newsletters published around the world, the big online retailers have their hands full. Smaller publishers will never get the attention accorded the mass circulation titles.

But not to worry, analysts agree that the World Wide Web will remain a digital common denominator on screens of all sizes. While many publishers are simply queuing up with the digital retailers, a handful of independent entrepreneurs are building robust subscription websites, which offer their readers the full content, community, and commerce online experience. These next generation subscription websites empower users to interact with digital editions, HTML archives, and share their perspectives and feelings about individual articles. These websites are both search engine and social media friendly, enabling users to move seamlessly from purchasing, to consuming, and to creating and sharing.

Choosing the best price and offer for your subscription website

At this point in my post, I’m going to jump from industry pundit to subscription marketing consultant. Twenty years ago, I taught followers that a single simple offer was almost always best. While that advice may still be true for media like direct mail, it is almost always dead wrong for a subscription website. This observable fact is one of the key reasons that savvy subscription marketers are building their own subscription websites.

To illustrate the triple play offer, I’ll use Hidden Gardens Magazine, the fictitious product we use to teach publishers how to start and launch a successful online media business at our quarterly Mequoda Bootcamps.

After reading a long copy landing page or e-mail sales letter, the user lands on the offer choice page and is presented with the following three options:

Unlimited All Access Pass: Yes, I want it all! Start my annual subscription to Hidden Gardens Magazine and notify me by e-mail when each new digital edition is available for download. I also want unlimited assess to the complete Hidden Gardens Library, which includes every article published since 1982 in a convenient, easy to use, searchable HTML format. Bill me just $49 per year.

Digital Edition: I just want the magazine, so please start my annual subscription and notify me by e-mail when each new digital edition is available for download. Bill me just $29 per year.

Digital Library: I just want access to the complete article archive, So start my annual subscription and grant me immediate and unlimited access to every article published since 1982 in a convenient, easy-to-use, searchable HTML format. Bill me just $29 per year.

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After choosing the offer that best fits their needs, the user would enter their credit card billing information, submit their order, and be granted immediate access to the current digital edition, the comprehensive HTML library, or both.

While results vary dramatically depending on the nature of the content, the depth of the archive, and the price points tested, the average publisher sees a 20 to 40 percent increase in average order value, when compared to a simple digital edition offer.

Perhaps most surprising is that many publishers see conversion rates increase by an additional 15 to 30 percent. When you compound the two increases, revenue per thousand arrivals will often increase by 50 to 70 percent.

Controlling your own destiny

In my consulting practice, I work with publishers of all sizes. While the issue of building content driven subscription websites is never mentioned by most large, corporate publishers, virtually every one of my independent clients is planning and building a content-driven subscription website that uses some variation of the triple play offer.

I mentioned this fact to one of my Indies the other day, and they had an interesting take on the phenomena. “I’ll bet your Indies are mostly owner/operators,” he said.

I nodded in recognition.

“Owner/operators take a long-term view. Building a subscription website is a significant investment that might take a couple of years to pay back. Corporate publishers are looking for a quick fix by distributing their magazines and newsletters through Apple, Amazon, and the other online retailers.”

I nodded some more.

“Hell, most of the corporate types know they won’t be in their current job 24 months from now, and simply are not interested in any channel that does not provide a bump to next quarter’s revenue,” he concluded.

Having spent my last 30 years in magazine and newsletter publishing, I find it hard to disagree with his take on the situation. Kicking the can down the road seems to have become a national pastime for most people working inside large organizations. The good news in my book is that digital publishing favors specialization, innovation, and a high degree of customer focus. So, if you’re looking for inspiration in the field of digital publishing, watch the little guys.


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