7 Possible Disruptors to Your Subscription Business

Like all childhoods, the digital media industry is growing and evolving fast. Just as the tactics you use to rein in your children at 2 no longer work at 12, so goes your subscription sales and retention rates.

In an effort to help you prevent the next “disruptor” from wreaking havoc on your bottom-line, Insider Editor-at-Large Minal Bopaiah offers a list of seven soon-to-be-prevalent innovations that you should get ready for. Not all of them may apply to your subscription business, but we’re willing to bet at least one will cause you a headache, no matter how big or small a publisher you are – unless you take steps to prepare!

Here’s the list.

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#1. Same-day delivery

Amazon and Target are testing same-day delivery in multiple cities, according to ShopSmart (one of my favorite magazines by Consumer Reports that’s only in print, believe it or not!).  For $10, all orders placed before 10:30am at Target.com can be delivered by the end of the day in Boston, Miami and Minneapolis. Amazon is offering same-day delivery in 12 locations (including DC, New York and San Francisco) for an extra $6 for Prime subscribers. Non-subscribers have to pay $10 for the first item and an additional $10 for each additional item.

While this technology may seem only applicable to eCommerce sites, subscription content sites should take note. For one, notice how Amazon is allowing digital subscribers to get a reduced rate on a print product – a great retention tactic. Two, same-day delivery may help revive print consumption, especially as the “slow reading” movement takes off. Imagine being able to get a print magazine in a consumer’s hands without the long fulfillment time? Even if you’re not imagining it, your customers probably are, so expect a greater demand for shorter fulfillment times. 

Smaller publishers or publishers without a print periodical may want to look into partnering with Amazon to make print-on-demand reports and books available via one-day delivery. But be sure to price accordingly, as Amazon will likely take a cut of your profits. And if possible, independent publishers should ban together now to make sure the sort of price-fixing that happened with eBooks doesn’t happen with same-day delivery for independent vendors on Amazon.

#2. Multi-device syncing 

The new NFL Now app is a “treasure trove of video” for football fans, but it’s got one feature that really blew me away: the ability to know where you leave off viewing on one device and let you pick back up in the same spot of a different device. Viewers can begin watching video on their commute and then seamlessly finish at home. What a beautiful user experience!

You can bet consumers are going to be expecting more sites and apps to have this sort of technology, especially if you’re providing your audience with video or audio. But even text and image sites, like newspapers, should look to provide this sort of ease to consumers. More and more, delivery is just as important as content quality.

This will require adaptation to the dual login-in lock-out technology many independent subscription sites have now, so you better start budgeting for those developer costs now.

#3. Cloud computing

Following mult-device syncing, more information is going to be in the cloud, which means fewer consumers are going to have the patience for downloading apps or software. Already Adobe and Microsoft have begun the switch to subscription and cloud-based services. But, like GoToWebinar, Adobe and Microsoft expect users to download software, which is then updated via the cloud.

This sort of consumer experience is cumbersome, and more B2B services – especially those that are high-priced – should try to find ways to provide Web-based services that don’t require software downloads. Of course, in some industries, software that’s computer-based and not Web-synced may be preferred, so ask your subscribers how they want to interface with your product before make any drastic changes to delivery.

And by all means, take more than the necessary precautions against hacking. Credit card breaches are becoming more common, but lower renewal rates are not the worst-case scenario. The recent hack that led to celebrities having their nude photos made public will likely lead to criminal charges (including distribution of child porn and revenge porn) for the hackers and possible negligence for the merchants involved. It behooves all publishers to know more about their liability and the measures their third-party vendors are taking to prevent hacks. 

#4. 3-D Technology & Google Glass

As 3-D video becomes ever-present and Google Glass get relegated to more confined spaces, it’s possible that there will be a revival in virtual reality technology. I can most see this benefitting B2B and professional development subscription sites. While information was hard to come by 30 years ago and experience was easy to get, nowadays, information is cheap but experience is harder to come by. Continuing education credits may require some form of experiential learning, and professional development sites can start offering this through events and virtual reality programs. For example, surgeons could learn new surgical skills in alternate reality environments. If you’re providing information to any skills-based profession, keep an eye on how virtual reality technology develops in the coming years and be ready to pounce on the inflection point of adoption and popularity.

#5. 3-D printers 

If same-day delivery and 3-D video isn’t applicable to your audience’s needs, then 3-D printing might be. This could be the beginning of a new hobby; instead of downloading music, adolescent boys will download blueprints to make scale models of cars or buildings. Professionals could print swag for events that’s branded with their company logo. And a subscription site could provide those blueprints/plans on a recurring basis for a smaller fee than a one-time download. So far, most of the uses for 3-D printing seems to be for fairly entertainment purposes, but businesses like Boeing and Ford are also adopting the technology. Just as printable 2-D documents have become a staple of B2B sites like Equilar, I imagine the next iteration of Web publishing will require 3-D print-outs for business publications.

#6. Internet of Things

Can someone call up your publication by speaking into to her phone? How about their work computer or TV screen? If not, they probably want to, and with the Internet of Things growing, many media consumers are expecting to be able to do so. More importantly, you can leverage Internet-enabled devices to boost your retention rate. Imagine if subscription site Daily Burn allowed subscribers to sync-in their FitBit data and get an expert’s advice on how to improve their physical regimen? Or if Consumer Reports could track your car usage and recommend a model that meets your lifestyle for your next purchase?

#7. Customized Services via the Web

Customization is the name of the game in the future, and the more personal and personable you make it, the better your chances of success!  For example, the Motley Fool is hiring a bunch of CPAs to launch a financial planning site. You have to admire their business acumen here – clearly, there’s a need in this country for financial planning advice outside of investment advice and by professionals that aren’t trying to sell you stocks and mutual funds. Who better to do that than a financial information publisher?

If you’re providing information that helps people make decisions about their lives or their work, then the question for the next year should be, “What are we doing to help our audience act on the information we provide?”

Summary 

The important thing to note about all these possible disruptors is that they are changing consumer expectations. And consumer expectations are going to influence your sales, whether you like it or not. If you’re not providing consumers with what they expect from a digital product, then someone else will in the hyper-competitive digital space. 

So, no matter how big or small a publisher you are, you need to keep assessing what consumers’ changing expectations are and then meet them in some shape or form. That make require increasing production costs by partnering with an outside vendor, providing employee training to the appropriate departments to make sure your staff has the skills to compete, or hiring new people or creating new departments. But one thing is for sure – you can’t afford to not evolve.