And now for something completely different…
We talk a lot about how to woo your subscribers. But before you can start growing your digital subscriber base, you must answer a very important question:
How much should my subscription cost? Pricing a digital publication is a crucial starting point.
You have to start in the right place.
Everyone loves a good deal
One of the most important rules about finding the right price for your digital publication is to start low.
In fact, start with something free to lure them in. Fortunately, a metered paywall makes this simple: your reader controls the material they get to read but you get to decide how much of it is free.
(And you can play with that number too. Just ask Military Living. They’ve had great success with flexing their paywall during their peak season.)
At the beginning, you price your monthly subscription pretty low. After all, you just launched your digital publication; you’re bound to have some kinks to work out. In the early days, reader feedback is more valuable than cash. After all, it is the foundation upon which your future revenue depends.
Once you’ve gathered and implemented enough feedback, worked out all the bugs, you can start raising the price.
Because here’s the hard truth: if you start too high, dropping the price won’t help. You’ve already lost critical momentum.
Like a frog on the stovetop
It’s like the old wives’ tale about boiling frogs. If you put a frog in a pot of hot water, it’ll jump right back out again. If you put it in lukewarm water and slowly raise the temperature, it won’t notice the difference. (Although why you’re boiling live frogs, we don’t care to speculate.)
When people see the price for something, they enter into a mental negotiation with themselves: do I want this thing? How much do I want it? Is it worth what is being asked?
If they decide the thing costs more than they’re willing to pay, it’s already been earmarked as not necessary.
Even if you go back to them later with a lower price, they’re unlikely to change their minds. Especially since, by then, time has proven to them that they can live without you. Unless they were truly hovering on the fence, they will be much harder to persuade.
But if you start them low, they’ll jump at a good deal. And once they’re used to having access to your digital publication, once you’ve proved your worth, they’re more likely to continue with you.
Even as you inch the temperature higher.
Just ask Modern Drummer Magazine. They launched their digital issue at $2.95 a month. Now, their subscriptions easily sell for almost double.
Modern Drummer also does something else clever with their pricing: they offer a few different bundles.
When you go to subscribe, they tell you up front that a subscription costs $4.95 a month. That’s the number the reader starts out with.
From there, they offer you four options, mixing and matching their digital, print, and premium content.
The potential subscriber chooses which one appeals most to them and is sent to the page with the pricing for that option.
A digital only subscription costs $4.95 a month (or $9.95 for archive access). That adds up to $59.94 a year. It’s a month-to month commitment (although they can set up auto-pay), cheaper than buying the print copy off a newsstand, and perfect for people who prefer to read on their devices.
If the reader is someone who might potentially be interested in a paper copy as well, they click on that option and are directed to a different page.
Purchasing a print and digital subscription is $29.95 for the year. It’s an upfront commitment for the whole 12 months but is, obviously, actually cheaper than the digital-only subscription.
The prices are never presented side-by-side, comparison-style. People who know they want the digital subscription are happy with the $4.95 price point. Those who want both are pleasantly surprised when they check out their options. That emotion (and the price) carries them forward to the decision to subscribe.
Modern Drummer reports that print/digital subscriptions outsell digital-only 4 to 1.
It’s a win-win: their subscription list grows and their print magazine flourishes.
In a nutshell
When it comes to the actual number you want to charge for your digital publication – well, you’re the best judge. You know your work and your audience.
But when you’re starting out, remember this:
Start low. Get feedback. Raise pricing.
Ready to publish and price your digital subsciption? Let’s talk.