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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Power media revenue and retention with renewal strategies

Media companies must focus on digital subscribers' lifetime value, which requires robust renewal strategies to improve retention

April 29, 2024 | By Katelyn Belyus, VP, Strategy and Analytics – Piano @piano_io

As media organizations manage shifting consumer behaviors and economic uncertainties, sustainable revenue growth remains a top priority worldwide. Understanding the intricacies of subscription retention, as well as what resonates with your audience, has never been more crucial. Given the critical importance of retention, we are seeing revived interest in the lifetime value of digital subscribers, which requires robust renewal strategies.

These days, audience insights are powered by a combination of acquisition volumes, price points, and rebounding retention rates. We analyzed extensive data from the publishers we work with at Piano from the past five years and discovered a notable resurgence in efforts to retain subscribers. This signals a strategic pivot for many publishers, who are re-prioritizing retention-centric initiatives to build loyal subscriber relationships and fuel long-term revenue growth.

Annual vs. monthly subscriptions

Consumers understand the benefits of choosing an annual offer over monthly: discounted pricing, uninterrupted service, and premium add-ons. However, our benchmark data also outlines intrinsic advantages for publishers when focusing on annual subscriptions, which shows annual users sticking around twice as long as monthly subscribers. It also reveals their annual term retention rates are nearly double those of monthly users.

Further, the duo of better retention rates and higher overall spend only compounds over time: at the end of three years, these annual subscriptions are worth 60% more than their short-term counterpart. It is easy to see the allure of deploying this type of offer strategy and explains why optimizing retention is a pivotal driver for sustained publisher growth.

Source: Piano, Inc.

Paid trials and renewal strategies

In the not-so-distant past, free trials were all the rage. However, over time, this approach did not lead to the desired stickiness. On the contrary, paid trials can leave a lasting impact not only because they offer a compelling introductory price point for new subscribers, but also provide publishers with valuable insights into consumer behaviors. By taking this approach a step further, and combining paid trial offers with annual subscriptions, publishers gain long-term users of premium products, while driving more opportunity to build loyal subscribers. Piano’s data demonstrates that paid trial subscribers are more likely to renew in year three, ultimately driving a higher lifetime value.

Reduce active churn

Once paid trials are in place, the next step is to prevent active churn, as cancellations can often occur early. As an example, auto-renewal cancellations are about 14% on day one and can rise to 38% within the first sixty days of a trial. To reduce this, immediate onboarding and communications should take place to build engagement between the subscriber and the product. Sending a welcome email, reminding users of the benefits, and highlighting top content are a few ways to keep consumption high.

In fact, even when a price increases at the renewal phase, building rapport with the subscriber can improve retention. Our aggregate client data reveals that implementing price increases of 15% to 20% for annual digital subscribers drove an increase in overall revenue of 6% to 14%. Even with a slight dip in retention that a price increase may spur (typically around 5% to 8% churn), it can still be offset with the revenue gains earned from the overall higher price point. Leveraging a grace period message that alerts potential access loss, has helped many media companies earn worthy renewal success rates.

Another fundamental of churn reduction is an interception at the point of auto-renewal and providing an offer to retain the customer when the churn behavior begins. As an example, The Daily Beast began integrating a “save” notice when the subscriber clicked on “cancel auto renew” where the customer is shown a downgrade offer to interrupt the cancellation and attempt to save the subscriber. When implementing this functionality with several publishers, we have seen up to 16% save rates on would-be lost subscribers.

Smart, effective renewal strategies are critical to capturing active subscribers and overall revenue growth. Through targeted retention efforts and personalized outreach, including regular touchpoints during a customer’s lifetime, publishers can nurture subscriber relationships and encourage continued loyalty, while reducing churn.

Renewal strategies retain customers

This is not meant to imply that the path to sustainable revenue growth will be simple. However, by refocusing on paid trials, retention, and active churn prevention—all while adopting a comprehensive approach to subscription management—publishers can approach their subscription models with confidence and build strong long term relationships with audiences.

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