The Top 4 Challenges Specialized Information Publishers Face and How Many Overcome Them

Robert Skrob, Subscription Insider Guide to Membership Retention and President of Membership Services, asked the heads of several specialized information publishers to talk

Now that subscription economy is a buzz word, everyone from start-ups to the largest Fortune 500 companies are taking advantage of the subscription business model.  The business model can be very powerful, with recurring revenue, income growth each month as you add new subscribers, and the business stability of dependable membership transactions.  However, the subscription economy business model does come with several key challenges.

With subscriber demands changing fast, it’s more important than ever for publishers to find the best ways to capture and retain those precious paid subscribers.

I asked the heads of several specialized information publishers to talk about their biggest challenges in growing their subscription publishing businesses. You will find some of these challenges to be consistent across the subscription industry as a whole, and you will learn how these leaders are tackling those challenges.

Challenge #1: Competing with Internet Noise and Free Information

As the world moved online, specialized information publishers moved too. Today, their target market is just a click away. So is the competition.

“The web is jam-packed with free information. Getting people to pay for things that may be found elsewhere is very hard,” says Ryan Dohrn, founder of

Sales Training World provides top-quality training and coaching for sales managers and other sales professionals. Dohrn combats the Internet noise by finding a differentiating factor. One that can woo paid subscribers away from free content.

“I call it my ‘D-Factor,'” he says. “I try and own a niche.  I focus in on a single topic, and then create content around that single theme.” 

Webinar training topics like “10 Ways to Drive Sales at Your Company,” draw in prospects with the SEO assist. The first five tips are included in the webinar. The last five are in a video series that sells for $395.

Guy Cecala, CEO and publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance Publications, agrees with Dohrn-free Internet content has changed subscription publishing’s business model.

Cecala’s company publishes statistics and B2B news for residential mortgage executives. Before the Internet, he produced newsletters.

“In those days, our focus was probably 75 percent editorial/news reporting and 25 percent data,” he says.

Today, the differentiator that draws in subscribers is the data. Inside Mortgage Finance’s mix between editorial content and data is now 50-50.

“We focus more on our data and creating original content and reporting around that,” Cecala says.

Challenge #2: Getting Attention and Generating Leads

The Internet has also disrupted the way subscription publishers do lead generation, according to Joel Poznansky, president of Columbia Books and Information Services.

“Direct mail, the tried and trusted method for years for print products, no longer works,” he says. “It’s been a significant challenge to find an alternative cost-effective method.”

Leads are also a challenge for Phil Ash, president of Investing Daily. His 40-year-old company provides actionable stock market advice, as well as free investment newsletters.

Companies today bid on ad keywords to drive potential subscribers to websites. If you don’t bid high enough, your company loses.

“Financial publishing is very competitive. It’s a bit of winner take all,” Ash says. “If we can only pay $10 a lead, but the next guy can pay $12 a lead, he’s just going to dominate those keywords.”

Challenge #3: High subscriber churn on high-end products

But Ash counts another problem as more critical than lead generation.

If his leads can produce more income, he can justify a higher bid rate for ad words. So, Ash is focused on subscription cancellation rates for “Investing Daily’s” high-end products.

“Our business model is built on the typical product pyramid of bringing people in with a low-priced product, and then stepping them up to a higher priced product,” he says. “But, naturally, as you go up in price point, cancellation rates tend to escalate. So, we’re focused on that.”

Challenge #4: Tracking Niche Industry Players

Publishing for niche communities is a great way to build a subscription base. But, finding people to sell to or to report on is one of Poznansky’s toughest problems.

Columbia Books and Information Services sells specialized information and data to professionals involved in grants, associations, politics, and industries that are closely regulated by the federal government.

“Withing the grants community, which includes government agencies, our biggest challenge can be finding the decision maker who controls the budget,” he says. “In the case of the nonprofit vendor communities, where we are the premier provider of marketing databases, the challenge is the size of that market.”

Specialized Information Publishers  are Facing the Challenges Head-on

Specialized information publishers have always battled in the competitive world of news. Industry veterans have long been inured to the problems of delivering timely data and insight to an elusive market. But the Internet has brought new challenges. Specialized information publishers now compete amid a sea of free content. It’s caused industry leaders to look for new ways to develop specialized content, as well as a marketing pipeline that builds loyal consumers for premium services. 

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