Have You Tried Shorter-Term Pricing? Read Some Who Have.

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Many SIPA members have used free trials. The biggest positive is obvious—getting someone to sample the good work you do. But the negatives can easily outweigh that. People don’t value “free” enough. Plus “…we found that so many people were signing up for a trial to get access to just a few things,” Brittany Carter, director of sales & marketing for Columbia Books & Information Services, wrote me yesterday.

brittanyAn alternative is starting to trend—subscribing or joining on a monthly basis. At first glance, this can be easily dismissed. You have to deal with automatic renewals, make sure your subscribers get valueevery month, and confront the fear that someone will do as Carter (pictured) said, take stuff and then leave. (Although at least in the monthly model, they’re paying something.)

But publishers have more products now—plus webinars and events. So while this might not have been right for your newsletter five years ago, it might fit something you do now. Auto renewal headaches are real but will hopefully improve with the new chip card standard. And as for providing monthly value and engagement, if we don’t already do that, we’re sunk. Peter Goldstone, CEO of Hanley Wood, told me yesterday that despite cutting down on print publications, they are putting out three times the content.

Carter said that Columbia Books charges monthly for one subscription—Lobbyists.info. “For a long time we went by the all or nothing mindset but realized that rather than try to push people to buy something in the way we thought they should, we switched the model and started offering a monthly subscription that was a higher rate than if they paid all at once but allowed them the access they needed.

“It’s been successful, and many of our monthly subscribers upgrade into annual subscribers,” Carter continued. “We’ve considered doing it with our other database product, AssociationExecs.com, but decided against it because that is a tool people use for prospecting, and we were worried about abuse. It still is a constant discussion in our sales meetings. Lobbyists.info, on the other hand, is a research product so the model works better there.”

Associations Now just ran an article about the Air Conditioning Contractors of America launching a monthly dues rate of $39. Since the initial push, about 40% of new members have chosen the monthly auto-renewal plan.

“That’s sort of how everyone deals with the Internet now,” said Kevin Holland, senior vice president of business operations and membership at ACCA. “We’re an organization of small-business owners, so for a lot of our members it’s more of a personal money decision than it is a corporate decision. You’re talking about low sums of money and someone’s doing an impulse buy. What we’ve found that works for us is someone comes to our site, and, if they’re looking for something specific or they want to get a piece of information, it’s very easy to get it now, at 39 bucks.”

The other advantage is the new data you get. “Now we know more about our members, and will know more about our members, than we ever did before,” Holland said. “And it’s not just to sell things. It’s also to engage them as members. So, if a member clicks on an article in the Insider [email newsletter] … then they will get something early next week saying, ‘Did you know you could also watch this video on this topic?'”

Another positive to consider is a tried-and-true one: $99 a month can sound and feel better than $1200 a year.

“We’ve had some success with quarterly installments, but haven’t tried monthly,” wrote Adam Goldstein, publisher of Business Management Daily (BMD). “One thing showing great promise is a 5-weeks-for-$5 offer on our $299 weekly newsletters.  If they don’t opt out after the 5 weeks, they’re dinged $79/quarter. This has done well through e-promos, but our first mail experiment isn’t looking so good thus far.”

Interestingly, I had just seen on The New Yorker magazine site a similar offer—12 weeks for $12. While they say that before renewals “you will be sent a reminder notice stating the term and rate then in effect,” BMD customers are offered “the best available price”—much more inviting in my opinion.

Joe May, marketing director at Pro Farmer, wrote in an email that—while they are membership-based—they do not offer any monthly options, only 1, 2, or 3 years. He said auto-billing doesn’t really work with his audience. But he did bring up one other advantage about monthly pricing—it can make your annual price look a whole lot more palatable.

“We’ve briefly tested some monthly options in the past, priced so the annual membership is more attractive, and the annual option outperformed the monthly option by quite a bit, so it had value in price positioning…”

Three years ago, I interviewed Harry Domash, president of Dividend Detective, a subscription website and newsletter. He charged $5 for the first month and then $15 for each month thereafter. And still does. “They can cancel at any time,” he said. “It seems pretty reasonable that way and easy for me. AOL pioneered that model back in the ’90s.”

Whatever concerns you may have, a shorter-term model seems worthy of at least testing.

“We’ve discussed trying it out on some of our more traditional subscription products but haven’t pulled the trigger yet,” Carter said. “What we have seriously considered is reframing our pricing so that we are stating the monthly cost rather than the annual to break it down a bit. I’ve seen a number of others doing this successfully, and I think it is something we’ll start testing soon.”

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…