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Bundling: 5 minutes with… Philippe van Mastrigt

Bundling is becoming increasingly popular with subs marketers as a way of increasing both revenue and retention. We grab five minutes with AdvantageCS’s Philippe van Mastrigt to look at the whys and wherefores of bundling.

By Philippe van Mastrigt

Bundling: 5 minutes with… Philippe van Mastrigt

Q: Why bundle?

A: Historically, print editions were bundles of articles, information, services and games, distributed per issue at a given frequency. The price of the issue or the subscription was the price of access to this bundled offer. Just think of those weeklies that delivered news, TV programs, crossword puzzles, and lifestyle supplements together…

Digital technology has broken this print issue concept by allowing access to individual articles, either through social networks or web browsers (Google), or on publishers’ own sites. An unintended consequence of that approach is the diminishing of brand value.

Bundling is a great way of rebuilding brands, either by increasing perceived value through a combination of print and digital content or by logically grouping a variety of content together for specific audiences. Publishers could even offer packages that match the specific consumption habit of the reader (for example, offering digital and print content on weekends, along with digital-only content during the week). The intention of bundling is to build brand value and customer retention, acquire new customers, and also increase sales by switching to premium offers. Bundling and price point are both effective ways to set offers, but they work best when they are tailored to the specific needs of each customer.

Q: What trends are you seeing in the way publishers bundle their products?

A: Historically, in the print-only landscape, publications were paired either with each other or with supplements, with the goal of increasing income.

With the advent of the web, publishers now primarily focus on paper / digital bundling, either by offering digital versions of the product or by bundling complementary print and digital content together. For example, since digital content can be readily published throughout the day, publishers can offer uninterrupted news online, in a package with supplemental printed editions of in-depth investigations.

With recent declines in both volume and profitability of print, several publishers are no longer offering “print only” content. By eliminating printed content, they are hoping to accelerate digital transformation and help facilitate the eventual end of printed offerings. A few well-known examples of this movement are The Economist and the Harvard Business Review, two brands that still have a large set of “only print” subscribers.

Most recently, many publishers are launching multi-brand, multi-service bundles, combining numerous titles, audio / video content, and services, in the manner of television packages or Amazon Prime. This concept is all about value for money. Two publishers that have mentioned this strategy are Schibsted with their “Superpacket” package and Mediahuis with their “Plus” package, both of which offer access to digital content from several brands within their respective organisations.

Q: What are the secrets of successful bundling?

A: The first key to success is to identify the piece of the bundle that provides the most value for the customer. This may be based on a real need (a passion for sports or any content that has a strong sense of community), or perhaps it is a product that carries a more “personal” value, meaning that the product provides opportunities for self-development, even if its usage might remain low. In the cable television world, documentary channels play this kind of symbolic role.

Once identified, publishers can bundle around this most valuable element, keeping in mind the maximum / optimal price that the customer is willing to pay. For the other bundled components, the content that has little value can be given away. This increases the customer’s perception that they are getting a good deal. Last, but not least, it’s important to build a range of combinations that justify higher prices (and enable upgrades), as well as help with customer retention (downgrades).

Q: What are the pitfalls to avoid when considering a bundling strategy?

A: A first pitfall is value destruction. By combining too many products at too low a price, the model becomes unprofitable. In many cases, it may remain wiser to sell these separately.

A second pitfall lies in pairings that don’t make sense. It’s important that publishers understand what product combinations motivate customers to initially purchase and then continue to subscribe.

A third pitfall is the lack of testing. Though you may see that packages are tied to loyalty, this may be the result of a tendency of loyal customers to purchase multiple products and therefore move to packages.

Q: From a fulfilment and customer service perspective, what do publishers need to get right?

A: The logistical aspects are numerous. For digital products, a unique identifier (SSO) is needed for customers to access all the content of the different brands you may include in your subscription bundles. For print offerings combined with digital, the challenge is being able to synchronize both issue-based and time-based components together. For example, if I suspend my printed magazine, what happens to the rest of the bundle? Similarly, what happens when I resume my subscription?

Additionally, it is vital that you provide your customers with meaningful and efficient customer service interactions. The key to ensuring a good customer service experience is making sure that your staff can view all the components that are included in the customer’s subscription. Your customer service personnel must also be able to quickly complete subscription-level transactions (extensions, cancellations, suspensions) along with fallback transactions (upgrades / downgrades) for retention.

Q: Apart from bundling, what other notable subscription marketing trends are you observing?

A: Following the covid bump, there has been a significant slowdown in the growth of digital subscriptions with a simultaneous acceleration in the decline of print. To counter the digital decline, the publishing market is now focusing efforts to reach “light readers,” as well as on customer retention (including working on fraudsters that are sharing passwords). Diversification (e-commerce, training, etc.) and B2B offerings are another major focus for marketers inside the publishing world.

Q: What’s in the pipeline from AdvantageCS?

A: AdvantageCS continues to invest heavily in our software application. We have completed the new version of our ecommerce suite Cider Plus, which includes new landing page capabilities, standard integrations with several new payment gates such as Spreedly and Stripe. Our next steps are paywall / retention capabilities through a partnership with a machine learning expert company, a redesign of our reporting capabilities, additional integrations with payment platforms (Google Pay, Go Cardless) and eCommerce (Shopify) and various technical projects around Cloud infrastructure, Linux and extensibility.

About us

AdvantageCS is the developer of Advantage – subscription, marketing and membership management software for publishers, who use it to manage their digital subscriptions, entitlements, magazines, bundles, e-products, conferences and events, membership and donations, payments and customer service. A privately-held company, AdvantageCS has been serving the publishing industry since 1979.


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