The subscription economy is booming. The average US consumer spends $237 every month subscribing to at least 12 paid media services (PDF download).
Although this figure is high, 74% of adults still expect to subscribe to even more services in the future. As a result, subscription-based businesses have grown nearly five times faster than the S&P 500 over the last decade.
And yet, challenges remain for digital publishers.
A Deloitte survey found that the churn rate for subscription based video streaming services in the US was well over 37%. A Mckinsey report discovered that more than 71% of all customers in the US expect personalized interactions from companies — a major challenge for digital publishers, which often don’t have the data analysis and propensity modeling capabilities needed to process large amounts of customer data and deliver real-time personalization.
Tracking, managing and reporting revenue have traditionally challenged many subscription-based businesses.
The good news is that using subscription management software can help businesses, especially digital publishers, overcome these challenges.
In this article we’ll review some of the best subscription management software available to businesses today.
Subscription management software is used to automate the routine aspects of managing a subscription.
It not only manages and executes a broad range of subscription-related tasks with the goal of streamlining recurring revenue streams but also seeks to improve customer relationships.
Key features of subscription management software typically include:
Given the changing needs that vary from one customer to another, it’s next to impossible to manage a large base of subscriptions without the automation that subscription management software affords.
Nearly 80% of publishers polled in a 2022 study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reported that subscription-based models would be among their top-revenue priorities.
These findings are in line with the 2019 projection of the New York Times’ CEO, Meredith Kopit Levien, that more than 100 million people would be willing to pay to read news online over the next 10 years.
Greater subscription volumes also bring their own challenges, however, including:
This is exactly where subscription management software can help.
A subscription management platform enables recurring billing and the other repetitive tasks to be conducted without the need for a customer to perform these tasks.
Freed of the obligation of performing online admin and other similar tasks, customers have more time to simply enjoy the products they’ve subscribed to.
Over time, this can foster loyalty as customers become used to — and dependent on — the benefits of their subscription, eventually becoming reluctant to switch to a competitor’s offering.
In a recent survey of the subscription economy, for example, 64% of respondents (PDF download) claimed that they felt more connected to companies with which they had a subscription than with companies they bought products on a one-off basis from.
Subscription management software works by automating some tasks conducted between a business and its customers.
The software operates by keeping a continuous “finger on the pulse” of the relevant interaction and responding accordingly. It achieves this through a number of key principles, which include:
The publishing industry provides many examples of how these different principles work with one another in subscription management software.
A sports publisher, for instance, may wish to attract new readers by offering a 15% discount on its annual print subscriptions. As the number of new readers steadily grows, the magazine’s editors notice that a rival publication is also targeting new readers with a 15% discount on its annual print subscription.
Keen to avoid competition solely on retail price, the publisher’s management decides to maintain their magazine’s current subscription discount but, unlike their competitor, provides customers with the option of paying either in quarterly installments, annually or biennially.
This pricing information is listed on the magazine’s website, where prospective subscribers can sign up using the magazine’s subscription management software.
As the months progress, the credit cards of some new readers expire. This is where dunning management — an automated payment recovery mechanism that’s triggered when there’s a payment failure — is executed by the software. The subscription platform sends emails or text messages — depending on the customer’s contact preferences, which are recorded in the software, informing them of the payment failure.
Each email or text message invites the customer to log in to the self-service portal in the subscription management software so that they can update their credit card information.
Apart from tracking subscriptions, subscription management software can also integrate itself with other commonly used platforms. If, for example, the sports publisher uses Salesforce’s Customer 360 suite of CRM tools, the magazine’s subscription management software will be able to export customer data to the marketing team through the Customer 360 suite.
Such seamless integration between platforms is crucial to ensuring that different parts of a subscription business work efficiently together. This, in turn, enables a business to speak with its customers in a clear, simple and unified voice.
So what’s the best subscription management software on the market? Here’s a snapshot of the 11 best subscription management platforms.
Chargify calls on subscription-based businesses to discover the subscription management software they won’t outgrow.
Designed to serve the needs of B2B SaaS companies, the platform offers a host of functions that cater for all stages of the subscription lifecycle. From sign-up forms and other templates that serve customized subscription management to sophisticated analytics tools, Chargify has got the whole subscription journey covered.
Chargify has three main plans — Essential, Growth and Scale plans.
The Essential plan offers flexible billing options in various currencies, analytics and customizable email templates, as well as two-way integrations with the Xero and QuickBooks platforms. Prices start at $599 per month (paid annually).
The Growth plan offers all of the Essential plan’s features, plus other benefits with a more financial focus: investor-grade subscription reporting, summary visualizations and deferred revenue waterfalls, to name a few. Prices are determined by contacting a Chargify representative.
The Scale plan includes all of the Growth plan’s features, additional features such as multisite functionality and integrations with the Salesforce, HubSpot and NetSuite platforms. A dedicated account manager is also included. Again, prices are determined by contacting Chargify.
Various add-ons, from specific CRM integrations to milestone-based billing and revenue, can also be included with these plans.
Chargebee offers a range of subscription management functions, which are suited for SaaS, PaaS and other subscription businesses.
Scaling is Chargebee’s forte, and it achieves this through a number of revenue-tapping and automation functions, as well as by synchronizing a business’s accounting and other financial tools. Another arrow in Chargebee’s quiver is keeping a finger on the pulse of customer churn rates.
Chargebee offers four plans on an annual or monthly basis — Launch, Rise, Scale and Enterprise plans.
The Launch plan, aimed at early-stage start-ups with a maximum of three users offers support for up to six pricing models and dunning management, among other features. If a business’s revenue is below $100,000, it will not be charged. Once its revenue hits the $100,000 mark, it will pay US$99 per month, including a 0.5% fee if its monthly revenue exceeds US$25,000.
The Rise plan, aimed at agile start-ups with a maximum of 10 users, offers the benefits of the Launch plan plus features such as customer portals, advanced analytics and CRM integration. Subscribers pay either $249 or $299 per month, depending on whether their plan is an annual or a monthly one.
The Scale plan, aimed at fast-growth businesses with a maximum of 25 users, offers the Rise plan’s features along with benefits such as multiple payment methods, multiple tax profiles and priority phone support. Subscribers pay either $549 or $599 per month, depending on whether their plan is an annual or a monthly one.
The Enterprise plan, aimed at large businesses that wish to diversify their revenue streams, offers everything in the Scale plan along with features such as chargeback automation and a dedicated customer success manager (CSM). Subscribers need to contact Chargebee to determine a precise annual or monthly fee.
ProfitWell is subscription management software that offers solutions to B2B and B2C clients. Compared to other platforms, it offers fewer tools for specific areas of subscription management; but what it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in the quality of its product offering. The fact that this vendor employs ‘subscription economists’ indicates how seriously it regards the business of subscription.
ProfitWell’s Metrics tool is free — customers just have to open a ProfitWell account to use it.
As for the Retain tool, monthly fees vary, depending on the revenue that’s recovered through its use, while monthly fees for Recognized start at $1,000 and those for Price Intelligently start at $15,000.
Source: Zoho Subscriptions
Zoho Subscriptions provides many of the generic features of subscription management software, such as automated subscription billing, self-service portals and tax management functions. At the same time, it also offers customizable billing options for SaaS businesses.
Zoho Subscriptions offers five plans on an annual or monthly basis: the Free, Basic, Standard, Professional and Enterprise plans.
The Free plan offers a maximum of 20 subscriptions for one user and includes hosted payment pages, subscription metrics and 24/5 email support.
The Basic plan is aimed at businesses with a maximum of 500 customers and three users. Features include the Free plan’s benefits, plus multiple payment gateways. Subscribers pay either $49 or $59 per month, depending on whether their plan is an annual or a monthly one.
The Standard plan targets businesses with a maximum of 2,000 customers and five users. Features include the Basic plan’s features plus domain branding and custom buttons. Subscribers pay either $99 or $119 per month, depending on whether their plan is an annual or a monthly one.
The Professional plan targets businesses with a maximum of 5,000 customers and 10 users. Features include the Standard plan’s functions, plus custom schedulers, integration with the Twilio platform and 24/5 live chat support. Subscribers pay either $249 or $299 per month, depending on whether their plan is an annual or a monthly one.
The Enterprise plan is aimed at businesses with over 5,000 customers. Features include multiple users and support at every step of the subscription life cycle. Subscribers need to contact Zoho Subscriptions to determine a precise annual or monthly fee.
Zuora coined the term ‘subscription economy’ and is one of the leading platforms on the market. It includes solutions specifically tailored for the manufacturing and IoT, software, high tech and media industries.
No specific product plans are available on Zuora’s website. Instead, prospective customers are encouraged to either call the company or submit a ‘Request a call’ form.
Stripe is already an established subscription management solution in businesses large and small. From providing customized invoices and mobile payment apps to integrating with other platforms, Stripe has taken care of all the key areas.
Stripe offers a range of pricing options.
Its Integrated option offers customers access to its basic suite of tools, including updates to those tools. Prices depend on whether customers are from the European Economic Area or elsewhere.
Customers can also opt for a customized package, which is aimed at businesses that have many payments or whose payments are of a high value. Customers need to contact Stripe to determine the precise fee for their package.
Finally, customers can also choose to use plans based on the use of individual tools, such as Stripe Sigma or Stripe Billing.
Marketed as a comprehensive subscription management software, 2Checkout offers businesses a number of features and tools that they can add or remove as their needs change. Clients range from Fortune 500 companies to startups.
2Checkout offers three plans: the 2Sell, 2Subscribe and 2Monetize plans.
The 2Sell plan features recurring billing functions and rapid integration with over 120 shopping carts. Customers are charged a 3.5% fee per successful sale.
The 2Subscribe plan offers all of the 2Sell plan’s benefits plus specific functions for renewals and upgrades, as well as advanced analytics, among other features. Customers are charged 4.5% per successful sale.
The 2Monetize plan offers the 2Sell plan’s benefits along with features that include global tax and regulatory compliance and access to over 45 payment methods. Customers are charged 6.0% per successful sale.
Businesses ranging from SMEs to global corporations have used Recurly, and it’s easy to see why. The subscription management software is a convenient one-stop-shop for handling all the ins and outs of subscription payments.
Recurly offers three plans — Core, Professional and Elite.
Aimed at businesses with an annual subscription revenue of up to $1 million, the Core plan includes quantity and usage-based pricing, as well as integrations with Zendesk and MailChimp. Subscribers pay either $199 or $249 per month, depending on whether their plan is an annual or a monthly one.
The Professional plan targets businesses whose annual subscription revenue ranges from $1 million to $25 million. It features multiple gateways and payment methods, as well as advanced analytics. Customers need to contact Recurly to determine the plan’s exact fee.
The Elite plan targets businesses whose annual subscription revenue exceeds $25 million. It offers most of the Professional plan’s features, along with the management of a business’s tax for an additional fee. Again, customers need to determine the exact fee for this plan with Recurly.
Source: MPP Global
MPP Global is a subscription and billing solutions provider to blue chip enterprises in the media and entertainment sector.
They claim an enviable client list that includes media giants such as The Times, Daily Mail and Comcast, among others. Their flagship service, eSuite, helps digital publishers with customer acquisition, customer retention, business model optimization and content monetization.
Prospective customers can request a call back to discuss pricing.
Source: Subscription Flow
Subscription Flow is an end-to-end subscription management solutions provider that caters to a wide variety of businesses in multiple niches. What sets it apart from other software in the market is its capability to go the extra mile and take care of the small details that enhance the experience of both the customer and the business which deploys it.
For instance, it enables businesses to offer a gamut of dynamic customer-centric features such as freemiums, coupons, gift subscriptions, rewards etc. that can improve both customer acquisition and customer retention metrics.
For businesses it provides not just end-to-end subscription lifecycle management, but also add-ons such as sales tax management that result in increased operational efficiencies in day-to-day business processes.
Subscription Flow has four pricing plans — Startup, Rise, Scale and Enterprise.
The Startup plan is targeted at teams of three members or less with an annual revenue of $100,000. It is priced at $79 per month billed annually.
The Rise plan is meant for businesses that are seeking to expand beyond the early stages.It is best suited for businesses that have 10 users or less and are generating around $1 million in annual revenue. It is priced at $149 per month billed annually.
The Scale plan is for firms chasing aggressive growth to join the mainstream of the publishing industry. It is best suited for businesses with up to 25 users and revenues of around $3 million a year. It costs $349 per month billed annually.
Finally, the Enterprise plan is meant for businesses with more than $3 million in annual revenue. Pricing is based on user requirements and prospective clients should contact the Subscription Flow sales team to get a quote.
Zephr is a subscription management software with a single-minded focus on personalizing the customer experience to drive customer satisfaction, and by extension, subscription revenue for the publisher.
It claims this strategy has resulted in over 150% increase in conversion rates for its clients. Although a relatively new entrant, it has already bagged an impressive customer list that includes The New York Post and NewsCorp Australia.
Customers can request a demo to discuss pricing based on their needs.
We’ve presented a snapshot of some of the best subscription management software on the market in this article.
Core functionalities such as automated billing and flexible payment options are common to all. Where each one differs is in offering specialized features tailored to specific business needs, such as the ability for customers to log in without a password
Finding the best software then becomes a matter of finding the right fit between its specialized capabilities and a business’s specific needs. This can take a bit of researching to hit that sweet spot.
But when publishers finally do find the right subscription management tools, they’re better positioned to supercharge its monetization flows.
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