The Publisher’s Essential Guide to monetising subscribers

The publishing industry is going through a period of rapid change.

Ads alone aren’t enough to keep publishers thriving and in business. Meaning they are having to find alternative, and more reliable, income streams.

To achieve this, publishers are pivoting their business to focus on subscription models.

For instance, Medium has announced that they will be retiring their native ad sales team and instead will be focusing on subscribers.

And the New York Times is now referring to itself as a “subscription-first business”. Claiming that it no longer wishes to focus on maximising clicks and selling low-margin advertising.

With publishing giants setting the trend for subscription models, other publishers are quickly wanting to follow suit.

But understanding how to monetise subscribers is one of their greatest challenges.

Fortunately, this essential guide provides publishers with all of the information necessary for acquiring those new subscribers and maintaining them as long-term, paying customers.

For publishers, better starts here.

What is a subscription model?

Whilst you may be hearing more about subscription businesses recently, the model has actually been around since the 1600s. And was originally set by newspaper and book publishers.

Even so, many in this industry have focused on making money from one-time purchasers and advertising. Which limits the capacity for long-term projections and planning. And an ongoing, reliable revenue stream.

With a subscription model, revenue is made on an ongoing, recurring basis in return for goods or services. Due to the ongoing nature of subscription services, they are also highly beneficial for building relationships with customers. Further increasing the likelihood of consistent, reliable purchasers.

These subscriptions are often renewed automatically and indefinitely. And will only stop if a subscriber actively terminates their subscription contract.

The subscription business model is different from regular, one-time purchase models. It has to take into account turning a free customer into a paying customer, subscription pauses and cancellations, and delicately handling subscription renewals.

Read on to learn how you can target these stages to monetise your subscribers effectively, and in the long-term.

Turn users into subscribers

Some publishers may offer a free version of their service, with the goal of turning these customers into paying subscribers.

Others, however, may require a subscriber to sign up to their paid options immediately.

Whatever model your publishing business practices, the most important step to monetising subscribers is getting them to sign up to your paid subscription in the first place.

Welcome series

Welcome emails are often the first communications that new subscribers will receive. They are sent at a point when the recipient is highly engaged. And as a result welcome emails typically see 4x greater open rates than general bulk campaigns, 5x greater click-through rates, and 8x more revenue per email.

If a subscription publisher provides a free trial or free version of their offering, sending welcome emails after a free sign-up is the perfect opportunity to begin monetising these subscribers.

Publishers should begin with a warm welcome, information about their brand, and support and social channels. But they can also start subtly drip-feeding the benefits of signing up to a paid subscription, and product teasers, whilst the free subscriber is at their most engaged.

Social proof

A brand shouting about the benefits of signing up to their own service is all well and good. But often potential subscribers will need more reassurance.

Social proof is ideal for reassuring audiences that a brand is trustworthy, and worth the subscription.

Publishers can pepper social proof throughout their emails to potential subscribers. Or send out dedicated campaigns. Or include it on their website.

This could include live ratings and reviews that subscribers have left for specific products. Or it could include pulling through a social media feed so that potential subscribers can explore and engage with others who pay to use your offering.

Sense of urgency to sign up

If you haven’t managed to convince your potential subscriber to become a paying customer. Maybe it’s time to put a little pressure on.

Emails that convey a sense of urgency have at least 14% higher click-to-open rates, 59% higher transaction-to-click rates, and twice as high transaction rates compared to regular marketing emails.

Publishers can achieve this by offering a limited-time offer or discount for potential subscribers to sign up. And to increase the sense of urgency, include a dynamic countdown timer in their email. Which will refresh with the accurate time whenever the recipient opens.

And as well as adding a sense of urgency. Countdown timers just look great in email. They offer an engaging alternative to static images, and help to catch the recipient’s eye.

Abandoned basket or form

Once all of your hard work getting the potential subscriber to sign pays off. They’ll be ready to take that final step and hand over their card details.

But what if you lose them at this stage, and they abandon their basket or sign up form?

The average basket abandonment rate is just under 70%. So this is a frequent occurrence.

Win these potential subscribers back with an abandoned basket email. Aimed at encouraging the recipient to finally sign up.

These emails should be clear and simple. Including a catchy subject line, a clear visual reminder of what the recipient was going to purchase, and maybe even a discount to offer them that final nudge.

Engage with subscribers

Once your subscriber has signed up, the hard work doesn’t stop.

It costs five times more to attract new customers than to keep existing ones. So keeping current subscribers happy is key to monetising them.

Personalised recommendations

Sending the same promotions and recommendations to your list is a waste of an email.

Instead, promote products that your recipients will actually be interested in.

This can be achieved by utilising subscribers’ usage data to identify the products and media that they regularly engage with.

Either publishers can separate these subscribers into segments based on their preferences, such as genre, and send these segments the same email.

Or they can be more advanced by using dynamic content to automatically pull through suggestions that are relevant to the specific individual.

Upsell campaigns

All well as keeping customers happy, there are always additional monetisation opportunities in your current subscriber base.

Depending on the publisher’s specific product, this could mean upgrading a subscription, or making one-off purchases in addition to their current subscription.

Upsell campaigns are ideal for encouraging recipients to spend a little extra.

This could include promoting the benefits of upgrading their subscription. Such as access to additional media. Alternatively, publishers could recommend products and media that the subscriber would be interested in, but have to pay an additional charge for.


While some subscriptions may be on a rolling contract, publishers that can sign users up for an entire year benefit from a much more reliable source of monetisation.

However, when the year is up, the pressure is on to encourage renewal.

And after all of your hard work gaining new subscribers and keeping them happy, the last thing you’ll want is to lose them at this time.

Automated renewal series

To increase the chances of your subscriber renewing, use automation to trigger a series of emails well before renewal is due.

The benefit of spreading these emails over a period of time is the renewal won’t come as a surprise to the recipient. And it offers the publisher more time to take a subtle approach to selling.

Renewal emails are an opportunity to really push the benefits the subscriber has received from your subscription. As well as letting them know what great new features and media are coming up that they won’t want to miss out on.

Time-sensitive discounts

If your benefits aren’t enough to encourage the subscriber to renew. Maybe a discount will.

We mentioned previously the importance of urgency in promotions, and renewal discounts are exactly the same.

Offer a percentage off the subscription, but only for a limited time, such as ‘current customer rates’. This will encourage the recipient to take action sooner rather than later. Or be tempted to renew their subscription after it has run out.


Renewal time is also a great opportunity to pull out all the personalisation stops.

And we don’t just mean using a first name in the subject line.

Publishers have so much fantastic data on their subscribers. This could be utilised at renewal time to remind them just how much they use the publisher’s service.

Tell them how many films they viewed. How many stories they read. And how many podcasts they listened to.

You can even delve into themes, genres, and topics.

Spotify are a great example of using subscriber data to offer a personalised experience. Each year they offer Spotify Wrapped, which is a highly personalised ‘year in review’. Complete with an automatically generated playlist.

Image Source – PopBuzz


Despite all of your hard work, for whatever reason sometimes you will lose subscribers.

But fear not, there is always the opportunity to win these lost subscribers back with carefully thought out re-engagement campaigns.


Personalisation is key to re-engagement.

There may be a reason for your customers cancelling their subscription. So it’s important to tread carefully when re-engaging with them.

Personalisation helps to add a human element to email, and comes across as far more friendly and engaging.

And the opportunities for personalisation within these emails are vast. From the traditional first-name in the subject line or email copy. Personalised email banners. Tailored subscription recommendations. Or a discount coupon specifically for them.

Social proof

Social proof is a great way to showcase the changes that have been made in your publishing business. And the benefits subscribers are experiencing.

Reinforce what was so great about your subscription by including reviews and ratings in your emails. Or even sending out a dedicated social proof campaign.

This can be achieved with static ratings and reviews, which may offer more control for the marketer. Or using dynamic content blocks, which can automatically pull through ratings and reviews for the most up-to-date social proof.

Social feeds

If your recipient’s favourite marketing channel isn’t email, you can re-engage with them via other channels.

Social media can be the perfect channel for engaging with lost subscribers.

Publishers can offer subtle product promotions, brand updates, and customer experiences to entice past customers back to subscribing.

Showcase all of the above by pulling your social feeds into your emails, and promote them as an alternative channel for engagement.

Image Source – BritBox

Are you a publisher looking to monetise subscribers?

Then we can help.

We have worked with a variety of publishers to help them get the most from their subscribers. And benefit from a reliable, long-term revenue stream.

Get in touch today to find out how we can help you.

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