Revenue stream diversification is central to developing a successful, profitable business. Traditional eCommerce stores often turn to new product lines, while the video game industry relies on microtransactions to get more money out of their already paying customers.
On the other hand, publishers and streaming services usually turn to subscription models when in need of additional income. However, setting up a digital subscription model requires far more planning than displaying ads on a site. That’s why 58% of publishers who rely on subscriptions say they have to resort to other means to help grow revenue.
All the available data suggests that a combination of ads and a subscription model is the most revenue-efficient path. Before you lock your audience behind a paywall, keep reading to determine how to utilize subscriptions properly as a revenue stream.
Subscriptions as a business model
It’s no secret that subscriptions tend to wear readers down at least as much as flashy, intrusive ads do. As a business model, it has a lot to offer, but only if it takes user experience into consideration.
The data is in, and it indisputably states that user experience deteriorates when content is locked behind a paywall, along with all the valuable traffic.
On paper, a subscription is an excellent long-term strategy that rewards quality over quantity. Loyal readers stick around thanks to the sheer quality of content and perhaps a unique selling point or two. In reality, users find running into paywalls around every corner unacceptable, especially with so many high-quality, free-to-use sources all over the web.
That doesn’t mean that subscriptions are either unpopular or inefficient as a business model. All it means is that they are best served alongside native ads, which won’t disrupt the flow of the page. On its own, subscriptions are a highly risky business model — a model that just might drive your users into the loving embrace of your competitors, unless you have a truly outstanding unique selling point.
Hybrid monetization is the most optimal path to take. It doesn’t cut off the largest part of your readership but leaves room for return visitors and loyal followers to express their gratitude and respect for your brand. There are challenges, though.
The first challenge — and one that’s most easily circumvented with a hybrid monetization model — is subscription fatigue. Subscription fatigue refers to the frustration a reader feels when greeted by yet another paywall.
Paywalls are hard locks between the user and the content. Most often, the visitors are unable to read more than a single paragraph on the page before they’re locked out of the remaining content. It’s a waste of time for the user and a hit to website traffic for the publisher. No one wins in this scenario.
Another challenge to overcome is the slow customer acquisition for publishers in a post-subscription boom. Outlets that were among the first to build paywalls have seen massive influxes of subscribers. The same goes for regional and global publishings or those with existing print subscriber bases. If your website is none of these things, you’ll need to come up with a way to boost reader conversion rates.
Akin to subscription fatigue, there’s a generally unfavorable perception of subscription models. Even though your content might be worth it, the subscription alone will drive a wedge between you and potential users before you even get to make a first impression. In other words, your site’s first impression will be based on your paywall — and it won’t be a good one.
How to make it work
There’s a way for you to make your subscription wall seem softer than it is — and that is by relying on registration bridges. Get your anonymous visitor to register to your website without requiring payment of any sort. Registered users are more likely to become paying customers down the line should they like what they see. They’re already closer to conversion than others, a claim supported by the fact they took time out of their day to fill in the required information for registration.
Custom-tailored, individualized messaging has been proven to increase engagement with users and persuade them to act: be it to sign up for a newsletter or pay a subscription fee. First-party data allows for a more granular personalization of the content and the subscription itself, and there’s simply nothing better than that for user experience.
Another proven method to getting your visitors to subscribe is to lock as much exclusive content as you can behind a paywall. While that might seem counterintuitive, it does work so long as you provide sufficient amounts of free content. Exclusive content can be anything, from premium newsletters to the ability to enjoy content before those who aren’t subscribed.
Don’t forget holiday discounts! Taking advantage of the holiday season and discounting your site’s subscription service is an excellent way to incentivize users to subscribe.
Other discounts work just as well — for example, bundling your subscription with other products or services that don’t necessarily belong to you. Building partnerships with other websites and businesses can help you do just that.
If you’re looking for a more modern and out-of-box solution, maybe Economist’s approach will spark inspiration. Their subscription app provides paying readers with additional features, podcast highlights and even quizzes and games on certain days of the week.
Simply shoving subscriptions down your users’ throats won’t do. We’re in the late stages of the publishing game, and there’s no room for aggressive, invasive business models. With just a bit of planning and the right dose of hybrid monetization, preferably with native ads, you will be able to benefit from reader revenue, while also receiving ad income streams.