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How To Make Digital Content Subscriptions ‘Worth It’

Subscription models are an opportunity to grow overall demand for content. In practice, these new models can provide an attractive gateway to testing different prices and offers. But before publishers can make digital content subscriptions ‘worth it’, they’ll need to see that the digital rights management (DRM) typically applied to “sold” books represents an unwelcome competitor.

Growing Demand

By selling components or charging for content that is actually read, publishers can grow overall demand for content. This approach requires thinking about access more than unit sales. Subscription services can increase demand for paid content by offering:

  • Access to a deeper selection of niche content (Safari Books);
  • An opportunity to cost-effectively reach untapped markets (both 24symbols and Safari Books); and
  • A serendipitous way to find and read content in smaller time intervals (Plympton and Byliner/Vook).

Offer Testing

Subscription access provides publishers with a gateway to testing different prices and offers. Direct relationships with readers represent a starting point for data collection about the types of content they prefer, the extent to which they engage with that content and their willingness to pay for more or different content.

These are the building blocks for a “conversion architecture”, in which publishers learn what works in attracting, retaining and monetizing an audience. Low marginal costs make it possible for publishers to offer digital content in a variety of forms and prices, learning along the way where demand exists or could be developed.

DRM: The Unwelcome Competitor

Finally, to be successful in offering digital content subscriptions, publishers need to understand that DRM is an unwelcome competitor. It makes digital books “feel” like subscription access, while providing none of the benefits available through ongoing relationships. As I have noted:

Applied to the book business, part of the challenge with subscription models starts with publishers themselves. Most eBooks are wrapped in DRM that restricts use and effectively makes them something you don’t own, but rather license. To a reader, there’s little difference between a purchased book with DRM and one obtained using a subscription service.

By removing DRM, publishers can provide a better, potentially higher-priced option for the sale of digital content. At the least, readers will see a clear difference between ownership and access, allowing them a choice that doesn’t exist today.

There is almost certainly a portion of the reading population that will buy subscription services. By thinking about components, price testing and the business impact of DRM, publishers are more likely to find ways to make digital content subscriptions ‘worth it’.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

2 thoughts on “How To Make Digital Content Subscriptions ‘Worth It’

    1. In the context of this post, I’m recommending that publishers test different prices and offers. A “great book” is not necessarily great for everyone. People have differing tastes and interests, and their willingness to pay for one type of book may be much higher (or lower) than for other types of books. Only by testing do we find out what works.

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