Q: What impact has the coronavirus had on subscriptions and the way publishers market them?
A:Subscriptions have in many cases increased along with online single issue sales, which to some degree has offset the inevitable loss in newsstand sales due to the coronavirus restrictions. Email marketing has been essential as publishers have been forced to push as many people as possible to their ecommerce platforms. With the likelihood of print editions not being easily available at the newsstand, many publishers have looked to their digital products and offered free trials to engage with potential new customers.
For existing subscribers, there has been the possibility of print subscription fulfilment being hampered by the impact of the coronavirus, particularly overseas.
Some publishers have therefore given print-only subscribers access to digital issues for free on a temporary basis. In the long run, this may have the benefit of eventually converting some customers to the print+digital bundle product.
Q: What tips do you give publishers who are trying to improve their subscriber renewal rate?
A:It is important that the renewal process is actively managed and monitored and that reports are available to review results and to analyse. Renewal correspondence has to be a mixture of both letters and emails. Whilst the move is towards more email correspondence, it may be surprising to learn that there are still plenty of subscribers out there who have not provided an email address and so letters still have to be produced. It is helpful to have a subscription system that can easily manage the process and have the flexibility to switch between both methods.
Ideally, higher retention rates are more easily achieved through acquiring subscriptions using continuous payment methods, where the renewal cycle becomes invisible. Initially it is important to have the capability of offering attractive deals with varying payment frequencies and amounts. Along with having a product with good content to keep the subscriber engaged, it can be worthwhile offering various subscriber benefits maybe using discounts or vouchers on other products to maintain loyalty and aid retention. Finally, good customer service is always an essential element to keeping subscribers on board.
Q: In terms of e-commerce, what innovative things are publishers doing to increase merchandise and other related sales?
A:With the current coronavirus situation, there is an even greater need to have a significant ecommerce presence because this has become the main, if not only, sales channel available to many publishers.
The web shop should have a modern responsive design allowing it to be very mobile friendly as well as still looking attractive on a desktop / laptop. More attention is being placed on the customer journey and the web shop should be simple to navigate and, most of all, easy to make a purchase. The checkout area should work equally as well across all devices.
Opportunities for cross selling have become increasingly important and there are clear advantages in being able to buy a subscription along with other merchandise such as a book, t-shirt or event ticket. For certain publications, there is a move to maximise the brand loyalty with innovative ideas for merchandise such as selling framed prints of archive covers of magazines. Another initiative we have noticed is the introduction of whole ranges of new third party products that relate to a brand’s image supported by frequent marketing campaigns.
Q: How can a typical publisher improve the efficiency of their subscription fulfilment operation?
A:To have an efficient subscription function, it is important to have a good customer service team led by someone who is operationally responsible for subscriptions. Subscription management is both a marketing and administration function with, ideally, some finance skill required as well.
Adequate training of staff using the subscription system is essential as well as the implementation of systematic and robust work routines. We often say that our subscription software is flexible in its use but it is all the better if a good work routine is built around it.
There needs to be good co-ordination between marketing, customer service and subscription management functions to ensure that new marketing initiatives are thought through and work at all levels.
Another aspect is the control of pricing and offers available. It is critical to review this from time to time and make sure it continues to be manageable. We have come across situations, when converting and transferring historical subscriber data to our system, where subscriptions have been sold at every price imaginable. Some prices would be far too low and on a continuous payment basis which meant they were effectively being sold at an ongoing loss. This is not easily resolved when attempting to then increase prices with the inherent risk of subscribers cancelling.
Finally, it is sensible for publishers to keep their customer data tidy and up to date. Regular review of aged suspended subscriptions and free continuous subscriptions to name but two areas, ensures that database integrity is maintained.
Q: In terms of the functionality of subscription management software, what are publishers asking for more of?
A:There is certainly more emphasis on the necessity to analyse customer data. We have experienced an increased need for a single customer view approach to refine the process of targeting groups of customers. This tends to be more complex than it first appears as there can be a vast amount of data to work with particularly when bringing in data from a variety of sources. Along with the usual subscription and merchandise transaction information, other types of data could typically be newsletter sign ups, competition entries and advertising.
It is therefore necessary to determine how data should be structured and to define both the nature of the data to include and how it is intended to be used. Another important element is full integration with suitable email marketing software to ensure smooth execution of marketing campaigns.
As indicated in the above section on renewal management, we are being asked to create more flexibility in communication with the efficient use of email where possible (ie. where an email address is available). This has extended to a number of areas including the mandatory direct debit Advance Notice letters to subscribers.
Another area being requested is the addition of more selling tools in order to maximise opportunities once potential customers visit the web shop. Examples are abandoned basket emails sent to customers who have dropped out before making a purchase online and the chance to ‘Refer a Friend’ whilst claiming a gift or discount.
Oak Software have been developing software solutions and providing services for periodical publishers for almost 20 years. Our systems currently manage subscriptions for over 1,000 titles with around 8 million issues mailed each year. Oak’s fully integrated webshop provides online customer account management plus a host of features to help maximise the ecommerce opportunities for our clients in the sale of both subscriptions and associated merchandise.
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