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selling super-subs by phone, pic by Daniel Reche on Pixabay

About A Ubiquitous Tactic That Doesn’t Work But Leads to Something Which Does

Currently, in the world of legacy publishing, there is a craze for ‘family subscriptions’. News websites, having been so successful selling digital subscriptions to people who not long ago were used to read all content on the very same websites for free, now are looking to charge even higher subscription prices by including more than one user account into their subscription packages.

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon. Just have a look at these examples from France, Poland and Great Britain. I could add specimens from Norway, Germany or the US.

French newspaper Le Monde offers single, 2- and 4-account packages

This is a typical example of a topic I am researching and reporting about in my B2B publication pv digest, which is read primarily by people from the world of (digital) newspapers and magazines.

Polish newspapers Gazeta Wyborcza offers a single user sub and a package for up to 3 people

What I found out about this strategy of creating higher priced packages by including multi-user options are two things. And both, I think, are of interest to the world of self-publishing creators.

First, more or less every insider I’ve talked to indicated, that this ‘mechanism’ doesn’t work very well. Only very few people subscribe to the more expensive packages because they want to share their subscription with family members or even friends (something which works quite well with Netflix, video streaming experts say).

The Times of London restricts the number of devices which can access its content at the same time

Actually, many of their subscribers do share their subscription. They just don’t see the point in paying extra money to do this. They do what many people do. They simply share their credentials.

Second, again more or less every insider I’ve spoken to, reported that nonetheless, approaching the issue of multi-user subs had been very fruitful for them. How this fits together is a learning, I think, some of us can profit from.

Super-Spreaders as a Resource for Super-Subs

When publishers think about family subscriptions or other multi-user plans, then one question arises nearly automatically: how many subscribers do share their subscription account with other people?

This question is much easier raised than answered. How do you identify an account which is used be more than one person? It will be an account where the content is loaded from different devices, different operating systems. But think of your own usage behavior. You are used to accessing content from your mobile, your laptop or desktop PC. Maybe, you also use a tablet. A PC at your workplace. The tablet of your parents. A connected TV set. How many different devices used are a valid indicator of more than one person?

Even the simultaneous use of two or more devices at the same time can’t be regarded as an infallible indicator of more than one person. That’s quite obvious if you think of a connected TV set: many people will do many things on their phone while watching TV. But it is not too hard to imagine someone accessing any content via her PC and at the same time by opening a corresponding app on her phone.

Simply put, there is no way to be sure.

But when publishers start analyzing these things, they often realize that there are accounts, where not 3 or 5 or 10 different devices were used but 100 or even thousands. And this, for sure, is an indicator that more than 1 person was using the account data.

Who would share his account data with so many people? What kind of people are such “super spreaders” (as one publishing manager branded them)? Under which circumstances such massive multi-usage occurs?

An Austrian newspaper told me, that they’ve put live streams of amateur football matches behind their paywall. That type of content was a huge driver of subscriptions for them. Also, it was content which often was accessed by many devices using one single subscription account. The newspaper’s explanation: one member of those amateur football teams, whose matches were streamed, shared his account data with all of his team. Sounds convincing, doesn’t it?

But there were other massively shared accounts which did not access specifically the football matches. Accounts with even more different devices and with a broad and rather average interest in terms of beats or topics. Many of these accounts could be traced back to people working in a company and sharing their accounts with colleagues.

I think, there is no reason to wonder about this. If you work closely with others, talking to them, discussing current topics, from politics over local events to whatever else is of interest, is what happens most naturally. Then, when you happen to subscribe to any publication which just yet has published a noteworthy piece about this, what is more natural than to share access to this piece of content with your colleagues? And them forwarding it to their close colleagues? … and them again … and again… I’ve heard of single subscriptions with literally thousands of different devices used.

The Austrian newspaper, then, did something very smart. They phoned the CEOs of those companies where such ‘super-spreaders’ were working. They explained the situation to the manager. They reasoned that obviously there was huge interest in their content inside of his or her company. Maybe they could show some cases where it was in the best interest of the company itself to have the content broadly available. And then, the newspaper offered a multi-user license to the manager, so that he could offer his employees a legal, fully copyright compliant access to the newspaper’s content.

selling super subs by phone

That turned out to be a very successful subscription marketing scheme. Maybe more than one phone call was needed in most cases before the details of the company licenses were agreed upon. But the revenue per subscription, the infamous ARPU, of those company licenses, was much bigger than the standard rate for a single subscription.

Company Subscriptions are Super Subscriptions.

And THAT is the secret sauce for success with multi-user subscription. It is not Jane or John Doe who will pay a few extra bucks to have their spouse or children or the complete household included in the subscription plan. It is the president of XYZ Ltd or ABC.plc or the CEO of YouNameIt, Inc who will pay for a subscription which gives access to more than one person. (Maybe the manager at the top will delegate this to the head of the procurement department – that’s fine as long as you speak to someone who is entitled to negotiate with you.)

It wasn’t only one Austrian newspaper who reported to be successful by selling super subs to companies. Basically all publishers I’ve spoken to, when researching the topic, reported similar experiences.

Of course, many other publishers are relying on multi-user business subscriptions anyway. Think only of Bloomberg, the company earning billions of Dollars by selling access to their financial market information services to banks and other finance and investment companies. I don’t think they do have many sole subscribers paying allegedly US$20,000 for an annual subscription. I think, more or less all of their subscribers are companies, paying hundreds of thousands or even millions of Dollars to have their employees being able to access the apparently indispensable exclusive Bloomberg content.

So here comes the point for you as a solo publisher: have a think about which companies or organizations might be interested in your content. Maybe, you already know some where employees subscribe to your content because they make use of your content when working. If so, you definitely should research the CEO or any other top manager of the company and find a way to contact him/her. Don’t expect them to sign up immediately. Don’t expect everybody to sign up at all. But do expect considerable success and a completely new pricing level. Here, it is not about selling a $9.99/month subscription. This is about annual subscriptions in the four-digit range.

PS: my own B2B-publication pv digest primarily is published as a PDF. So I can not track multi-usage. Nonetheless more than 10% of all paid subscriptions are multi-user subs. In those cases, companies even did contact me and ask me to offer them a multi-user subcription.