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5 reasons you are losing subscribers (and what you can do about it)

Admin | 10 May 2022 | Read time: 11 minutes
Topics | subscription model, subscription economy, revenue streams

High subscriber churn rates could indicate costly gaps in your subscriber loyalty and retention strategy

Without a robust retention strategy, customers can ‘fall through the cracks’ and this results in lost revenue and stifled growth. The key to getting retention right lies in thinking long term.

Although acquiring and retaining subscribers are sequential parts of the subscription funnel, they require different approaches. It’s critical to understand that subscriptions are not a one-time transaction, but rather a relationship that needs to be invested in and nurtured. Subscriber retention (and loyalty) is predicated on the investment in your publication’s relationship with its readers, enhancing their experience, and delivering genuine value propositions. 

With that in mind, here’s five reasons why digital publishers might be losing subscribers and what to do about it:


Reason 1: Unengaging onboarding process

Retention begins at acquisition. Since churn is highest in the first month of a subscription, creating an onboarding process that is not only welcoming, but thorough and thoughtful is essential to ensuring longevity. 

A comprehensive onboarding process should not only familiarise new subscribers with the benefits of their subscription, but also encourage active and regular engagement. This can be achieved through regular email reminders and proactively emphasising content that matches interests and keeps them coming back for more. 

A thorough onboarding process should empower new subscribers to make the most of their subscription and recognise the value they’re receiving. How well a publisher is able to align this perceived value with the product cost will dictate how long-term relationships with subscribers will fare.


Reason 2: Poor habit-building

Nurturing subscriber habits should be a core strategy against subscriber churn. The key to securing a place in what Nir Eyal calls the ‘habit zone’ is frequency: frequency of interaction and engagement. By integrating your publication’s content into your readers’ daily lives, the product becomes sticky and thus reduces the long-term risk of losing subscribers.  

Cultivate habitual behaviour by uploading content to a regular schedule, incentivising daily interactions with your site, or by sending out email newsletter reminders consistently. By creating frequent touch points with subscribers, and encouraging them to engage with your content, you’re more likely to build an audience who stays for the long term. 


Reason 3: Lack of personalisation

If you’re opting for a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the user experience, this could explain why you’re losing subscribers. Personalisation is becoming the expectation rather than the exception in digital publishing, and a best-in-class approach to content should be emphatically audience and individual first. With 74% of customers feeling frustrated when website content is not personalised, it’s clear that having a strategy in place to tailor content according to interests is an essential part of any digital publishing business. 

Digital publishers should be tracking and analysing users' interactions with content and leveraging these insights to develop future content strategy. E.g. What articles or topics are read the most? What time of day are they read? Which demographics read those articles? 

70% of digital publishers already personalise the content that their visitors see, and this is now considered the ‘holy grail of media distribution’.


Reason 4: Inadvertent cancellation or lapse 

Limiting involuntary churn is one of the easiest things digital publishers can do to stop losing subscribers. If a subscriber chooses to end their subscription, there’s arguably little you can do to change their mind. However, if subscribers accidentally cancel or lapse due to payment errors or changes in credit card information, this is a preventable loss. 

To stop losing these subscribers accidentally, send emails reminding subscribers to update their payment information or invest in software that automates the process. 


Reason 5: Porous billing structure

A monthly subscription offers subscribers twelve opportunities to cancel. This may be a reason for high levels of subscriber churn. Indeed, generally speaking, monthly subscriptions have a lower retention rate and therefore lower CLV, with only 45% of monthly subscribers remaining at the end of the year compared to 75% of annual subscribers. 

If you’re losing substantial monthly subscribers, try reworking your pricing structure to emphasise annual subscriptions. By discounting annual prices, you can encourage uptake and thus increase both your retention rate and CLV in one fell swoop.


Are you letting your subscribers go too easily? 

Digital publishers should be doing everything in their power to make sure at-risk subscribers don’t go anywhere. To do this, publishers need to identify high-risk subscribers who may be looking to cancel, and then run effective re-engagement campaigns that specifically target those at-risk users. 

Three types of subscribers that are typically at risk of churning are:

Sleepers - also referred to as ‘Zombie Subscribers’, customers with an active subscription who are inactive users and have not accessed your content in the last 30 days. 

Passive Churners - subscribers who unintentionally lapsed or cancelled. Usually due to changes in payment information. 

Fast churners - customers who decide they don’t want to renew early on in their subscription. Most likely opt out of renewal in advance. 

Former subscribers who have recently ended their relationship with you should also be included in your re-engagement strategy. Win-backs, though difficult, are not impossible. 

An effective rescue or win-back campaign will incentivise re- subscription and re-engagement. You might start with a simple email reminder of the benefits included in the subscription and escalate to offering discounted rates and extended trial periods. 


Losing subscribers doesn’t have to be inevitable 

Subscriber churn can feel like an inevitable cycle that leaves you feeling powerless. However, as we’ve seen, there are several tangible ways that you can reduce and mitigate subscriber churn. The crux of this is to invest in the long-term retention of subscribers by not only developing your product offering, but by nurturing habits and sustained engagement with your content output. 

To recap, for the best chance of long-term subscriber retention, be sure to:

  1. Implement a robust, thorough onboarding process, providing value quickly
  2. Make your publication part of your readers’ daily habits
  3. Deliver unique, personalised experiences for each of your subscribers
  4. Simplify and streamline renewals, billing and payment processes to stop involuntary churn
  5. Optimise your pricing strategy to prevent customers from falling through the gaps


Additionally, if you haven’t already, taking steps to address involuntary churn is a quick (and easy) fix that will prevent unnecessary loss of subscribers. 

Download our e-Guide ‘5 (Actionable) Ways News Media Publishers Can Improve Digital Subscriber Experiences’ for effective strategies to acquire and keep subscribers. 


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