Does the B2B Subscription Boom Presage a 2023 Bust?

Dealing With 2023 and Beyond

In 2021, subscription publishers increased their overall customer base by over 30%, an astonishing statistic considering that 2020 was itself a good year for media subscriptions. Clearly, the pandemic had much to do with it. Having been confined to home for long periods, what else were we to do except read and consume content? Subscriptions, in particular, flourished. Perhaps they offered a comforting feeling of a long-term relationship, of reliability and continuity in a time of deeply-felt uncertainty.

And then came 2022! For B2B publishers, it started well enough in terms of revenues, however there was an unsettling sense that the bloom was off the rose. In addition to the pandemic’s supply chain, transportation, and paper hangovers, we now face roaring inflation and a credible threat of recession.

In this economy, businesses and consumers are looking to consolidate and contain. It looks like we are due for a large dose of transition from the heady days of 2020 and 2021, and subscription fatigue is a bigger concern than ever for both B2B and digital media publishers. Now, more than ever, publishers must clearly understand their subscribers’ content preferences. In this article, we review what steps organizations can take to protect their brands from what may be coming in 2023.

Subscription Retention

Subscriber retention, driven by first-party consumer data is the name of the game since the privacy policy changes at Apple and Google. B2B publishers are reliant on the opt-in data that they have accumulated on their subscribers’ motivations and behaviors, stored  in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technologies. The key components of these technologies for B2B Media publishers include customer engagement tracking, audience building, integrated campaign management systems. Publishers with advanced systems in these categories will be better able to weather the storm.

All B2B publishers know who their subscribers are, but only those with sophisticated CRM capabilities can fully leverage that information. On the other hand, publishers who have outsourced aspects of their customer service, subscription, and publication management workflows, often find themselves at a distance from their own subscribers.

Those publishers who are not positioned to engage subscribers, especially digital subscribers, throughout the customer journey will struggle. And with more publishers chasing a relatively smaller number of cash-strapped consumers, business could become even tougher as the economy worsens and personal finances get tight. So, what are these essential technologies that B2B publishers will need in 2023 and beyond?

Essential Current Technologies

Driving and retaining digital subscriptions, ahead of display and native advertising, are core competencies and publishers must be prepared to take their content and brands across a range of devices, channels and social media.  Regular automated communications with the subscriber are essential. Systems that provide these messaging capabilities for activities such as upselling or pricing changes based on customer engagement data, will provide an advantage in a bid for subscriber retention. Publishers will recognize the value of seeing a 360-view of their customers, preferably on a single platform that can manage both print and digital subscribers with an effective customer self-service portal.

Self-service subscription portals must be easy for customers to navigate. And to build trust, they should also provide easy-to-cancel capabilities. The audience must be able to decide for themselves what they need, both in terms of content and pricing models.

It has always been important to develop a welcoming connection with the audience from the beginning, starting with onboarding processes that launches thoughtful and well-planned message streams over the course of the subscription period. Publishers must be prepared to try out new models based on subscriber feedback and quickly adjust, adapt, or discard as necessary. They need to offer prices for different subscriptions of different durations for both manual and auto renewal – of course driving wherever possible to auto renewal. Thus, flexibility of the customer offering (and therefore of the underlying technology) is vital, as is the media choice. For example, features might include the ability for a subscriber to choose a certain quantity of issues/books per month, of a certain genre, with links to online content, with access to back-lists (free or otherwise), with trial subscriptions and multiple payment methods, including credit.

Embracing New Technologies

New technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning will drive greater efficiencies and even more automation across the sector.  Media companies are betting on AI as a way of delivering more personalized experiences (and hence, more accurate views of personal preferences and behaviors). Revenue diversification is primed to be a key theme to maintaining subscriptions. And its no use having AI recommendations if people can’t easily log in, pause subscriptions or change billing details for example.  A system that offers its sales, marketing and customer service representatives a single view of the customers across both print and digital, has immense benefits.

Large B2B (and educational) publishers need to manage subscriptions through a central purchasing function, where the main account holder can grant entitlements to other individuals in the subscriber’s organization.  As a result, the publishers must have the capability to see which individuals belong in which group and must map complex customer structures with capable identification, billing and delivery requirements of each, so the ability to view and identify these groups and their needs is important.


KPIs and extensive reporting are an essential part of the technology in the current economy. The ability to use technology to evaluate early warning signals from potential lapsers or non-renewals, can be developed using customer usage patterns from the collected data. If a subscriber is going to lapse or not renew, the system should recognize this and create alerts, prompting customer service and marketing to initiate remedial action. And although automatic renewals are preferred from a publisher’s perspective, the ability to communicate with all subscribers, especially non-automatic renewal subscribers, can provide a good receivables forecast. Annual Retention KPIs and Trial take-up data should be monitored and acted upon – lapsers and leavers will provide more consistently reliable information than joiners, and so should be carefully monitored in KPIs.

In Summary

Good CRM systems contain, among other features, customer profiles, segmentation and interaction logs that support the creation of the appropriate level of personalized promotional campaigns. They keep the customer engaged and active through the subscription period. This is achieved through the use of news, sales up-selling messages to enhance the customer experience. In most cases, legacy systems do not cut it in this regard.

Systems should be cloud-operated, browser-based software with clear account information for the user, based on source campaign information.  It is essential to categorize and target individuals in this way, using the data that has been carefully collected from opt-in data on each account.  The system must be capable of sending a pre-planned series of communications in the subscribers preferred channel.

And lastly, it is vital for all this data on the customer to be in one central repository with transaction history of all communications, in both directions, and from which customer service representatives can easily interact with the subscribers on pricing, renewals, and queries, to keep the customer long term.


Photo by 91 Magazine on Unsplash