In the 50s and 60s, only a few households owned a TV set – instead they rented them from Radio Rentals or Rumbelows. Now, in true retro-style, the concept has returned, but this time updated. Suddenly everything is available on subscription from films to razor blades.

Yet, in the world of magazines and publishing, subscriptions never went away. But, although the concept may remain the same, the world around it has changed. In the days of digital and diminishing advertising revenues, magazine subscriptions are more important than ever, but urgently in need of a makeover.

If take-up is high enough, subscriptions can be a lifeline and an efficient way of monetising the business model. They provide a predictable and recurring income, for a start. They also encourage strong bonds between a publication and its readers. In turn, the publication becomes more familiar with its readership and can tailor its editorial according. It can also use the intelligence gained to up-sell and cross-sell further products and services.

In fact, many leading journals – including nationals such as the Guardian, the FT and the Daily Telegraph are already working the subscription model in sophisticated ways, creating club-like communities for subscribers – or ‘members’ – with special offers, courses and specialist information such as investment advice and exclusive events. And yet, because of this, it’s easy to think that everyone has cracked the problem, but this is far from the case, especially when it comes to trade titles or the regional and local press.

Part of the confusion is caused by multi-channel access – nowadays at least 33% of traffic to and from online news outlets is mobile. This fact underlines that the situation is constantly evolving and so publishers need to be constantly reviewing their model. The market is also very competitive – once one organisation offers one thing, it’s replicated elsewhere. There’s a constant need to offer something different, even just to maintain the status quo.

However, it’s not just a case of having plenty of ideas, publishers need to find ways to put them into practice. In many cases this means taking a long hard look at the current back office systems used to manage and bill their subscriptions. This can be a difficult thing to do; legacy systems were no doubt a major investment, taking months or years to implement, configure and integrate with other applications.  Yet when it comes to the flexibility needed in today’s tough markets, they just can’t do the job.

But the back office processes for this kind of recurring revenue management are entirely different from collecting advertising payments. Success might depend on innovative ideas, but it also demands attention to basic practicalities such as giving subscribers a choice of payment methods such as direct debit and continuous payment authority (CPA), or bank transfers and even by cheque.

For this reason, many publishers are experimenting with cloud billing applications which can be implemented without the help of expensive consultants, in a matter of days or weeks at the most. These systems make changes in new services or packages, quick, easy and inexpensive, giving users the agility required and enabling them to get these to market before their competitors.

Note that cloud billing systems are very different from cloud-based billing. The latter is typically a standard, on-premise billing product hosted somewhere in the cloud and gives none of the flexibility. As a test – if the vendor can’t offer a free trial, then it’s probably only cloud-hosted.

In the days of digital and diminishing advertising revenues, magazine subscriptions are more important than ever, but urgently in need of a makeover.

Cloud billing gives publishers the freedom to rapidly try out ideas. This is significant as it takes away most of the overheads of failing. If something doesn’t work, they can accept this and quickly try again until they get it right.

It’s a case of being ready for anything. For example, a publisher may want to start off with basic subscription billing, but could soon be looking for more sophisticated and granular pricing models to monetise more of their online content. Or at some stage they may want to combine subscriptions with a paywall based on usage, as well as offering combined print and digital packages. The cloud will also grow with subscription success and support expanding performance demands.

The evolution of subscriptions is gathering pace. Optimising this opportunity means constant innovation combined with making it as easy as possible for customers to engage with a publication – and spend money.

Louis Hall

Louis Hall


Louis Hall, CEO, Cerillion Technologies