Q&A 

Subs management: 5 minutes with… Chris Smith

With publishers increasingly focusing on subscription revenues, all aspects of how we manage our subscriber base are coming under scrutiny. We grab five minutes with Oak Software’s Chris Smith to look at trends.

By Chris Smith

Subs management: 5 minutes with… Chris Smith

Q: What trends are you seeing in subscriptions management and fulfilment?

A: Publishers are becoming increasingly data driven, and seeking to discover more about their customers. This is helping inform them on future decisions, rather than simply reflecting on what has happened previously. A standard reporting system which offers subscriber numbers and renewal rates is not enough anymore. The ability to dig deeper into what is driving acquisitions or churn is no longer a luxury – it is expected. We have taken steps to sophisticate our reporting platforms in response to this, and we expect that publishers will continue to want more from this area.

Q: What trends are you seeing in how publishers are marketing subscriptions?

A: Publishers are building their own digital teams which have brought skills in house which 5-10 years ago will have been outsourced. We have seen an increase in customers operating PPC advertising on Google themselves, as well as an increase in social media marketing, which was vital when pushing up acquisitions during the pandemic. Publishers have found acquisitions a tougher proposition in 2022 as the cost of living rises, so I expect trends to keep evolving over the rest of the year.

There has also been a greater effort by publishers to make their print and digital bundles the default offering, and in some cases print-only subscriptions are no longer offered. This has the dual benefit of adding perceived value to a subscription as well as exposing the customer to different publisher channels. It is a useful step when trying to future-proof a publisher.

Q: In terms of how subs management systems are developing, where are publishers and their software suppliers investing most effort?

A: Publishers are investing most heavily in their ecommerce operation and the bulk of Oak Software’s development in the last year has been evolving the ecommerce platform we offer to customers – either from our own development roadmap or responding to customer requests. These have centred around reducing friction through the purchase experience and improved tracking capabilities. Payment platforms such as Stripe are opening avenues to small publishers which previously will have been reserved for large online retailers. An area we have tried to focus on is reporting integrations, and how we can most effectively allow publishers to track how their customers behave and where they have been sourced from.

Q: For publishers looking to get into ecommerce for the first time, what are the key dos and don'ts to consider?

A: Keep things clear and concise. Make sure the site is easy to navigate and is clearly labelled. The focus must be on the customer journey – a feature may look good on screen but is it improving the customer’s experience? Is it aiding them to complete a purchase?

It’s also important to make sure the website is designed specifically to cater for the needs of the publisher. It needs to be able to effectively handle subscription offers in a sophisticated way. Gather inspiration from existing websites but do not just seek to replicate what another publisher is trying to achieve – their goals may be different. A specialist web designer with publishing experience is worth their weight in gold to help achieve this.

Also think about how existing customers will interact with a new website. They are the most likely to engage with a new site so look after them. A well functioning My Account area will be important to gather email data, for example, currently lacking.

Q: If you look at the publishing sector as a whole, where typically are there efficiencies still to be made in the area of subs management and fulfilment?

A: The publishing industry can improve on integration and collaboration with complementary suppliers. An independent publisher will manage the same number of relationships as a large publishing house but with less resource. There is scope to consolidate the supply chain, and that can be centred around a subscriptions management platform. This is something that Oak Software will be looking to incorporate into future versions of our products.

As publishers become more sophisticated with reporting and analysis tools, I anticipate there will be efficiencies made across acquisitions and renewals also.

Q: In your experience, what strategies and tactics work best for new subscriber acquisition?

A: I have always found price-led offers to be more effective. Christmas would be the one exception where free gifts would be preferred. It’s not a new idea, but step-up offers (first three issues for £5, for example) are an excellent way of introducing customers to a publication who may be put off by a 12-issue commitment initially. As long as you back the quality of your title you can be confident trialists will stay with you.

It’s important for a publisher to make the most of their own channels to complement paid spend. If producing online content, include a subs driver at the end of each article – it is the most engaged form of prospect a publisher could find – don’t wait for a Facebook ad to tell them the same message.

Q: What’s in the pipeline at Oak Software?

A: We will be spending the remainder of 2022 migrating our Oak Subscribe product to the web. This will take the application’s existing functionality while giving it a fresh user interface. It will also allow for a more streamlined integration to our ecommerce sites. The core aim of the redesign is to make it an even easier application for publishers to use. We are also expanding its capabilities to accommodate all publishers, not just magazine publishers. Subscribe has always been for publishers – these developments will enhance that further.

We have also introduced a new platform on which our ecommerce sites are now built. All future site builds will use this. This allows publishers to have greater control over content and site appearance while simplifying the way in which our ecommerce sites are managed.

About us

Oak Software was founded in 2000 seeking to offer publishers an in-house alternative to subscription management. It later added an ecommerce platform to offer an integrated solution. It has since developed an in-house single customer view system. In May 2021, it was acquired by The Cricketer, an existing customer. The Cricketer hopes to combine its publishing knowledge with Oak’s software expertise to offer a more rounded solution to publishers. All of Oak’s core products will be undergoing major development in 2022.

www.oaksoftware.co.uk