Trena De Landro, VP of Publishing and Media speaks with State of Digital Publishing about the exciting times ahead for online subscription products and how we’ve come to this point.
In this episode, we go through:
- Background – The history of MPP Global and Trena’s professional background to date.
- How do online subscriptions work – Types, technical steps for setting one up. Note – we will try and keep this part neutral as possible
- Recent online subscription product releases and the best ways to work with them for a multi-platform approach i.e.Medium, Facebook, Google News, Twitter etc.
- MPP Global’s wins with Irish Times and L’Équipe
- Retention strategies and methods for boosting online subscription revenues
- The state of online subscriptions – where it is now and where it’s going.
How-to and trends
Jump straight to Trena’s advice for trend spotting, audience growth how-to and the tech trends that lie ahead in the online subscription.
Vahe Arabian: State of Digital Publishing is an online publication community providing resources, perspective, collaboration and news for digital media and publishing professionals in digital media technology, and honest development. I podcast talks of design to invite you behind the scenes on one-on-one talks with the experts in the industry. This is episode four, with Trena De Landro, VP of Digital Publishing Strategy at MPP Global.
Vahe Arabian: Hi, Trena. How are you?
Trena: Hi, I’m well, how are you?
Vahe Arabian: I’m well, thank you. How’s everything at MPP Global?
Trena: Things are going great. It is coming up to the end of the year … We have across the company, meaning across all our different regions from NorAm to headquarters in UK as well as in Japan, you know, continuing to service publishers, which is my particular sector, as well as OTT clients and retail clients. So, things are looking well as shaping up for a great remainder of our fiscal year to date.
Vahe Arabian: That’s really exciting. I think everyone towards the end of the year just gets their final goals kicked off, ticked off so it’s good to see the same happen with MPP Global.
Just for our audience, just for people who don’t know much about MPP Global, just about yourself, if you don’t mind just giving me a bit of an introduction.
Trena: Certainly. So, I’ll start with MPP Global. So, the company has been around for seventeen years now and actually started out in the publishing space, so they were looking to solve a publisher problem of how to diversify their revenue streams, how to properly manage subscriptions and that’s really what the company’s core is and what we decided to focus on, so recurring revenue and subscription management tools, that’s what we offer. And then, you know, because of the successes that we had in the publishing space, we then expanded into other verticals that were in need of the same tools and had similar problems, so you know, we expanded beyond publishing into the TV, sports and entertainment realm. We also expanded into consumer and retail goods, especially with, you know, the spark of the subscription services from the food perspective, from other merchandise and goods like Birchbox, etc., so those are the types of things that our company saw a need in the marketplace and created tools related to solve these issues across these different verticals.
Trena: After the introduction to MPP, just personally, I am relatively recent in just terms of the company time frame. So, I started at MPP in May of this year and I came on board to, for the North American team which we are ramping up here for publisher side strategy. So, my background has been in the publishing space on the sales side, on the account management side, digital specifically, and so when I saw what MPP was doing and what they were offering, and the context that I had in the publishing space, you know, it just seemed like a perfect fit.
Vahe Arabian: That’s awesome. It’s an exciting time now. Particularly as the bigger players come aboard… It’s not something that the stress is on you but it’s just deciding that everyone else is starting to get on board with it. You said MPP Global, you know, back when they started was focusing on trying to solve their publishing problem themselves. How did they… If you can go more into details on that, how did they try to solve it? Did they see it in terms of just a technology problem or did they see it in terms of … You know how did they approach it initially?
Trena: Got it. Well, just in regards to the publishing clients and context that they had, starting out in the headquarters and the UK, it was what’s taking place in the UK now is this transition from legacy tools and services; these ERP systems, these large and sometimes outdated services and transitioning publishers in the UK into a space of having a SAS platform where they don’t have to take on these sizeable capital expenditures to get these things up and running … To get it set up and then to have it working smoothly and, then of course, with the rapidly changing pace of technology, if they wanted any changes … If someone from the marketing team was trying to test a new product, deploy a new product, they’d have to go through their developer team, assign resources, etc. And so we saw a need in the market in terms of alright, you know, SAS models have been tried and proven … We are able to provide our publishing clients with the ability to innovate faster, test and deploy products quickly, and then also take the burden off of them in regards to handling credit card data, which of course, is incredibly sensitive information.
Trena: So, that’s really how it started in regards to “we have this technology to help publishers solve this issue of working with some of these legacy systems that are not serving their needs any longer or at least not innovating fast enough and not rolling out new features such as social sign on, single sign on, how to keep up with the rapidly changing pace of technology”, and that’s what we were aiming to solve and that’s what we did solve.
Vahe Arabian: And so how do online subscriptions work? Like, are they different types of online subscription people can do… What are the types of online? How does it work now? What are the different types of online subscriptions people can look towards when they are trying to monetize on bestselling subscriptions?
Trena: Got it. So, I mean, when you typically think of subscriptions most people, especially in the publishing space, most people think, “Oh, I’m getting an annual subscription. I pay this sizeable amount of dollars and every year and I then I get it and then I renew at that point in time”. Annual subscriptions were then broken down into monthly subscriptions like, Okay, let’s see if you like to keep it, if not… It’s not something that was typically done but with changing consumer interests and behaviors like, alright, publishers then tried to test that model and let’s see if you’re interested and you want to pay for it in this fashion.
Trena: What MPP offers is the ability to have any type of payment model, the subscription model that you can conceive. Meaning, that whether you want to do annual, whether you want to do monthly, and then if you want to get even smaller than that and to bite-size chunks, you can do per article and so those are … Like micropayments, you can even do nano payments. Because we are a payment processor and a payment gateway, and we have the ability, in house, to process transactions and any type of transaction, it really gives our publishing clients the flexibility to do as they choose. So, we’ve had clients that said, “You know what? We know our readers are coming on a particular time of day, a particular day of the week, and they’re not so much interested in having a long-term subscription even monthly or weekly, so we’re going to let them pay per article”.
Trena: And so those are the types of options and the flexibility that you have in terms of, I have tracked my consumer behavior, I know what they’re looking to do. How do I best provide a package, an ability for them to purchase with the least amount of resistance and offer them exactly what they’re looking for? And so we have the ability, with our E Sweet tool, to say “Hey, you want to charge people per article? Please, feel free. It’s more than capable”. You know, from an iTunes’ perspective, you want to charge per song, per whatever the case may be across different verticals. We have this ability for you to come up with a subscription model or a payment model that reflects that.
Vahe Arabian: You mentioned the main models are the monthly subscription, annual subscription, and per article. Are there any other subscription types or models that you’ve seen across MPP Global or just in general that, across other sites, that people have been using?
Trena: Well, our most frequently used … You can do monthly subscriptions is, of course, something that is most pervasive. Even though people are paying, you know, it’s an annual subscription, but they are paying monthly. We do have people that do things such as week passes. We have clients that do day passes, so, you know, you have full access to the content for a daily basis and then, even if, to break that down, of course, more granular, you can do per article.
Trena: So, those are really the pervasive ones at least in my, and the publishing sector, that you see, from across different verticals of course, when it comes to the OTT space, we have folks that if you’re interested in just purchasing access to one piece of content, meaning a show to sports viewing whatever the case may be. I mean the models are similar in terms of, you’re accessing either bite-size pieces of content or you’re getting a full access pass across a certain time frame, whatever the case may be, but that’s kinda what we predominately see. Even, you know, we do have the flexibility for you to come up with any sort of consumption model that you choose, meaning you know it can be as crazy and varied as if it is raining today then we can have clients say “Alright, if it’s raining, we can charge clients less to access an article or access a piece of content”, and then you can also bundle that with, you know, and umbrella or some sort of pass to have food delivered, something of this sort. Like, the possibilities are endless as they say. It really is. You have the ability to do whatever you choose from a payment perspective.
Vahe Arabian: And when can… I want to be really practical for people who listen to this, so when can publishers decide, “Okay, now I’m at the point where I can monetize my content. I can put a paywall, you know, the other top things you mentioned”. How can it come to that point of deciding that and how can they then go and step by step choose what kind of model they can do and then what are the technical steps for them to set that up?
Trena: Got it. So, in regards to publishers coming up with that decision, I mean, that again is making data actionable. You need to, with the data, and or even if you know this is something that you want to try in terms of a pay content strategy … What our tool offers is the ability for you to say, “Alright, I would like to either across my entire site put up a registration wall or a paywall or I would like to test it for certain section of users.” And so our tool really allows you the ability without developer resources to say … It’s pretty much a “plug and play” tool of “I’d like to set up a registration wall after a user that is unregistered, has accessed five free articles”.
Trena: So, our tool really allows you the capability to go into that section, simply do these drag and drop, if/then statements to say, “Alright, if a user’s not registered and they’ve … After the fifth article then populate our registration wall so that they can pay for whatever bundle they choose”. So, we have the ability to not only track users as they come into the site and track their behavior, what they’re browsing, what their content is and then populate offers that we feel would be best suited to them. So, let’s say a user is coming to this site. They are reading business and sports content, they’ve hit their five free article threshold and then we can offer them two types of bundles. We can say, “Hey, would you like to get a monthly subscription to access all content?” Or we can say, “Would you like a monthly subscription simply to these two sections, which can have different price points”. And then, again, the user has the ability to choose which subscription they like to continue with and doing so within our system is really as simple as logging in to our eSuite HQ, going into the back end, setting up this drag and drop rules and then once you click publish, that’s rolled off across the site.
Trena: So, those are kinda making it practical in the steps. That’s how it works. Of course, there is, in terms of implementing eSuite, there are things that are happening beforehand, before you can get into the HQ and set these things up. But all those, in terms of how things work on our side, we do have workshops with our implementation consultants so we can get a sense of a client’s business. What is it you’re looking to do? Make sure that they have the training for the tools as well a very robust resource center, so they can access the information at any time and, of course, there’s always access to us. So, that’s kind of a bigger, broader view of things, but really, for us, once you have access to eSuite, it is as simple as going in, setting up the parameters that you want, clicking publish and these things are live.
Vahe Arabian: I understand. How much, on average, do MMP Global’s clients traffic… How much is it on average and like … Do you see like a correlation between the amount of traffic that get demand versus potentially the revenue, or is that something that you guys don’t have … You can’t see that data?
Trena: So, we can see that data. However, with each of the clients that we work with, the data belongs to them. So, we can process, handle, transact all of that data, but the client’s data is theirs and so that information’s confidential.
Vahe Arabian: The reason that I’m sort of asking as well is just, again, back to the point of helping the publishers who are more smaller come into the point of, you know, deciding to do an online subscription… Do they have to look at numbers or, I know we spoke more about … You explained more about them seeing patterns and then, you know, trying to give them office and testing it out. Are numbers important in creating a subscription product or… What are your thoughts on that?
Trena: When you say “numbers”, do you mean, “If the higher the traffic, then that’s when I should make a call to implement a pay content strategy?”
Vahe Arabian: That’s right, yeah.
Trena: Okay. Got it. So, that is not necessarily the case. We do have, again, clients that all their content is free and their concern about implementing not just a paywall in terms of “you need to subscribe to access the content”, but just putting up some sort of registration wall to say, “Hey to continue to access this information, give us, you know, register i.e. give us an email address or some other piece of information about you”. So, several publishers in this space are concerned that if they do put up some sort of paywall or a registration wall, their traffic will drop and that will then impact their advertising revenues.
Trena: What we consult clients on is that our tool is here to give you the opportunity and the flexibility to have diversified revenue streams beyond or complementing, or beyond ad revenues only. So, in the case of some clients that are concerned about, you know, I’m about to implement a paywall is … How drastically is this going to affect my traffic? So, like as I mentioned before, you can test it out. You can say, “Alright, 50% of the users that come to the site go through the flow that they’ve had before and nothing has changed. 50% we’re going to test with the paywall strategy”. And then, so, again, it’s just giving you this massive toolbox to say, “I want to test it out and see how this works”. If with the 50%, that you know, has gone through the paywall journey don’t convert into a subscriber after a certain period of time, then you can internally, you guys can, you know, decide if this is a strategy you want to continue with, or whatever the case may be.
Trena: What that, that’s certainly not always been the case. We have clients that are like, “Alright, we have tried a monthly subscription model but, and then we also tried bite-size chunks of content and we notice that we have better conversion rates with bite-size chunks of content”. Or it can be in the opposite direction. It really is up to, you know, the publisher, clients, specifically what they’ve seen working for them after, you know, they’ve tried and tested things. What’s worked, what hasn’t worked and then, you know, tweaking the optimizing it along the way.
Trena: What we’re able to offer our publishers is this, you know, a massive toolbox to say, “Hey, this is something you can try and test. See how it works, optimize it if it isn’t producing the results that you were expecting”. And so that’s really the biggest benefit: here is this toolbox that you can utilize to do a myriad of things to get people to convert into paid subscribers.
Vahe Arabian: What are some of the common paid content strategies that MPP Global clients use? Just more … Are they more common ones that they use or does each client that you have tailor specifically to their own revenue strategy?
Trena: Got it. Yeah, so most clients, again, tailor it to their specific revenue strategies and revenue goals. What some of the common ones you’d have, the premium type model, meaning users will have access to certain amounts of content for free and then after they reach that threshold then they’re asked to register or pay… It depends on how a client would like to go. We do have some clients that, you know, the minute that you hit, land on their site, there is that registration wall and you only … Only premium members have access to any of their content. So, it can go either way. It really is up to the individual client and what their goals are and how they’d like to implement it. But we offer the ability for them to do whatever they choose.
Vahe Arabian: Understood. I’d like to just take our conversation just a bit, a higher level in terms of industry. So we’ve seen recently Google, Facebook, Medium as well, Twitter to some extent, they really surround subscription products for their content. What are your thoughts around their product releases and how do you best work with them in complementing with your website subscription products?
Trena: Got it. So in terms of these different platforms rolling out a subscription model, it just supported what MPP Global has been doing in the space this long, in terms of, there is certainly a market for users to pay for premium content. So, that was definitely, it was … For the industry, I think it was a great thing in terms of, you know, showing that paying for content is not an anomaly. Paying for content, especially for premium content, is the directions that many publishers are going into and it’s a way of diversifying your revenue stream. So, that was a great industry win, I would say. In terms of how to work with these different mediums, I know when Facebook launched their subscription model and instant articles, it was definitely something that a lot of publishers paid attention to and their interest was definitely peaked as to how they would be able to utilize it, ‘cause in terms of publishers having their content across multiple areas, sites, platforms, etc., … Of course, their primary revenue driver and their primary source is to how people land on their pages.
Trena: But in terms of social sharing, it’s an opportunity for users to discover their content through these multiple platforms, and so working in conjunction with a Facebook, with Google News is an opportunity for them to reach more people that are interested in their types of content. So, like from an industry perspective, I think it’s a great direction for things to be heading so that publishers would have the ability to not just have users coming directly to their site, but also they’d be able to earn revenue and subscription revenue from multiple different platforms, so I think it’s a great way to go.
Vahe Arabian: What was the catalyst in them that actually decides to release products, subscription products? Do you think it might be an influence on, from the entity in the retail sector, because, with the subscription products or do you think, like you said, it’s just more that there is now an appetite for quality content?
Trena: I think definitely in the times we are in with the pervasiveness of fake news … Things of that sort, that for verified, trusted sources of news, information and content, that that was something that sparked this transition. That’s my thoughts and feedback in the publishing space. I also do think that with, not with declining ad revenues for many publishers being an issue, the opportunity for them to diversify and say, “Okay, there’s this product that we’ve been offering for free for how many years. The only product that folks have been paying for has, in many instances, been the print edition or even, if we’ve done an ePrint edition. So, how can I then continue to provide the premium content that I’m doing and then diversify these revenue streams?”.
Trena: So, I think that looking into the subscription models, you know, taking a page from the book of OTT providers, etc., was also something else that led to this transition in the publishing space especially.
Vahe Arabian: Why do you think publishers always seem to lag behind in terms of innovation even though publishers are supposed to be seen as innovators? Even, especially in the subscription space?
Trena: Interesting question. I think that because it is one of the first mediums, because again, you’re always seeing these articles on, “Oh, is print dead?”. You know, when the eReaders came out … Things of that sort. There’s always been this massive shock and belief that print is dead, the publishing industry is not going to survive; however, the publishing industry has always, even though it may be slow, they’ve always found a way to get up to speed and so I also think that it’s an opportunity for technology providers that serve the publishing space … That’s really their biggest opportunity. It’s the ability to say, “Listen, when digital first came out and, then publishers were realizing that people were accessing their content even on websites that were not necessarily best or, you know, the user experience was not premium”. They started to realize that more people were accessing their content via digital than they are in print.
Trena: And then the same thing happened in mobile. People are accessing my content and my website on mobile as they are as opposed to desktop then as opposed to print. So, even though they may be slow on the curve in their definitely … They take their time, dipping their foot into the waters with new technologies. One thing that has never changed is that the publishing industry hasn’t gone anywhere. People are always going to need the news, people are always going to need content, and so the publishing industry is definitely here to stay. It certainly, with platforms such as Medium, with people, you know, gathering and reading news on platforms like Facebook and other social media platforms. The publishing industry has just had to figure out ways to adapt to the changing times and how people are accessing their content. So, it’s definitely, you know, been a trend that they’re certainly not early adopters in any sense of the word but they always find a way to adapt.
Vahe Arabian: Do you think that this is an advantage that they take their time in trying to figure out what the best way to technology is to be able to cater to the audiences like fight the bigger publishers? Or do you think that they’re just losing revenue and they’re just being … I know you mentioned being, how they are slow to the curve but do you see that as a matter of disadvantage?
Trena: I certainly see that as an advantage simply because you know this is a medium that has been around for centuries, so it certainly … It would definitely not be prudent … You know, why is for them to just with, “Hey, here’s a social media platform that came out, let’s just shift the direction and let’s all utilize this new platform and get rid of our prime publication”. I certainly think it is advantageous to them to take their time, see how these new technologies pan out because in some instances they may rise and skyrocket to be Facebook, or in some instances, you know, they may not last. So, I do think it’s definitely beneficial and advantageous to publishers to see how these new platforms are working and going … Take their time to see how their audience is engaging with them and then making the change.
Vahe Arabian: I agree as well, otherwise, if you’re being too rash, then one mistake and you could lose that audience, so … It’s hard to get them back. The one thing that I’ve noticed as well is with each of the subscriptions platforms they have their own payment system and everything else. Is MMP Global looking at a way to integrate the payment systems together or do you have to take each of them as a separate silo … Trying to just generate revenue from each subscription product that’s on, each different platform? What’re your thoughts on that? Do you have to take a holistic approach or do you have to take a platform approach to subscriptions?
Trena: Are you saying like, for instance, if I am on Facebook and I’m one of the approved publishers that can do that as well as I’m also publishing my content on Medium, etc., is that kind of?
Vahe Arabian: Yeah, you are publishing content on Medium, you’re publishing content on Facebook, but in a subscription product, but then you’ve also got your website, which is a subscription product as well. Would the content on your website … Do each of those platforms have different payment systems or like do they … Can you integrate the payment systems together or … How would it work if someone wants to get access to every … Access to the publishers content across different platforms?
Trena: Got it. So, I mean, because these subscription tools and services are still relatively new, and again, … Facebook’s role out of there subscription service is with a handful of publishers, so it’s not … these subscription models across these multiple platforms are not yet, you know, widespread; they’re certainly being tested in, on a small scale with, you know, sizeable publishers. So, in regards to, like the integration of the payment systems, etc., we’re not there yet. You know, OTT has kind of led this space in terms of being able to access, you know … This network shows on, you know, one subscription service like Hulu and then you can do it on Amazon Prime, etc., … The publishing space isn’t there yet. It’s now like 2017 has been the year where Facebook and Google News, etc., have now launched these subscription services so that publishers can try to venture into this space, but I do believe similar to how, you know, it rolled out for the OTT space, that there will be dispersed payment systems. And that’s how we’re going to have to start, in terms of, you know you’re going to have revenue coming in from this platform, another platform, and you’re going to have to work with it as is.
Trena: But then I do see an opportunity again for someone to create a holistic approach to say, “Okay, I know that there … I have revenue coming in from these multiple platforms, from these multiple services, and let’s try to aggregate that”.
Vahe Arabian: Look, I hope that is because it will make it easier, in my opinion, for publishers to work with each platform as well.
Trena: Definitely. From, you know, a payment standpoint, from a reporting standpoint, from an optimization standpoint, certainly. But we are definitely not there yet in terms of, you know, right now’s the publishers are deciding on a pay content strategy and they’re doing so for their internal products. So they’re saying, “You know, for my print, my digital, for my Emag, then internally I’m going to roll this out and then I have one sole payment system and subscription management solution”. But again, as Facebook allows any and every one to be part of their subscription model system then that certainly going to change things and then, of course, as more follow suit, it certainly … You’re going to have, what, anywhere from three to five to more avenues of income coming in and then there’s definitely the opportunity for aggregating that.
Vahe Arabian: How does it … The integration like you mentioned with the Hulu and Amazon Prime example … With the OTT space, how … You mentioned Amazon Prime and Hulu being able to combine to unify the payments system. How do you think MPP Global will be able to do something similar for publishers with the website and other platforms, combining them together, the payment system? For the subscription product?
Trena: Well in regards to, like how it’s handled now, I think is an opportunity. I mean, in regards to, like the OTT example, like they’re still separate payment systems taking place … ‘Cause Hulu’s monthly charge is separate from Amazon’s monthly charge, separate from Sling Box, etc. So, all of them currently in the OTT space have … Their subscription fees are separate and then their management systems, I believe are definitely separate. But, in regards to the opportunity to aggregate this, I think for MPP Global, there is an opportunity to provide multiple different service providers and multiple different publishers the opportunity to combine their subscription management and the recurring revenue management in one place with us. So, that I think is an opportunity but it would be working with multiple different providers in order to do that, if that makes sense.
Trena: It just that where we are, and the space where everyone is still working separately, how their taking payments and the services that they’re offering, so, we’re not there yet in terms of having a central solution to manage that, because it would require working with multiple different providers.
Vahe Arabian: I understand. I guess it’s still a tricky area to sort of determine what the best way is to work together on that solution.
Vahe Arabian: Let’s look back at past success and look at today. You mentioned pre-talk, you know, before we started our talk now that you had some pretty great workings with Irish Times and L’Équipe. Are you able to elaborate more on what you guys did there?
Trena: Certainly, so in regards to these two publications, what eSuite, which is our toolbox as I like to call it, or our subscription revenue management platform. What we provided to the Irish Times and L’Équipe were the opportunity to implement a paid content strategy, so these publishers came to us, they knew that this was something that they wanted to roll out, and so whether they were starting from zero meaning they had a previous subscriber base, whether they’re across digital products or digital and print, or … So whether they started with … What subscriber numbers are there, they were starting completely from scratch. Our eSuite allowed them to roll out and test new products. It allowed them, of course, to have an incredibly seamless and simple subscription management service and then also for subscribers that they did acquire, it allowed them to retain these customers with our trend management solution.
Trena: So, for in both instances, we were able to work with each particular client, see what their needs were, whether it was rolling out a completely new pay content strategy or if it was tweaking their current pay content strategy and how they can improve and increase it. And/or if there was an issue if they were losing customers in the funnel through, whether to not being able to update card information, not being able to access payments, whatever their particular issue was, eSuite had a tool or a module in order to solve it. So, that’s just some of our past wins there and it’s something that we’re continuing to do for clients.
Trena: We, you know, with each individual client, we sit down, we have a conversation, we get very clear in understanding what their issues are, what their needs are and then we work with them in terms of showing them: This is eSuite, this is how it can be utilized and this is how it can solve the issues that you’re having.
Vahe Arabian: I believe it was mentioned in MPP Global’s previous news that, I think it was for the Irish Times, that they were able to reduce their credit card failure rate down to few percents just because of the system there. What are some of the common errors and stuff that happened with credit cards and how can people manage their retention with people’s payments details?
Trena: Certainly. So we have a module within eSuite, so one of the tools in our toolkit, called Retention and Recovery. And so we, after being in the business for so many years, we have an algorithm in place that allows us to identify different types of churn. So, what most publishers have an issue with in regards to churn is what we called “involuntary churn”. So, that’s things such as credit card information is not accurate, so whether someone reported their card lost or stolen, they got a new one and we don’t have their updated payment information, whether the card has expired and we don’t have that frequent information … Or simple things such as when we tried to take the payment because it was at a time that was high flagged for fraud, all these different things that come into play when it comes to processing payments, our retention recovery module solves for.
Trena: So, we have what we call “Automatic Card Updater”, and so that allows us to retrieve from the credit card, you know, schemes … Master Card and Visa themselves updated the card information on clients and so that’s one way that we are able to reduce churn for clients by saying, “Listen, we’re not going to have any sort of payment breakage with something as simple as updated card information ‘cause we do this automatically for you”. We also utilize a tool such as suppression windows so that means, we don’t try to take a payment at times that, you know, credit cards companies are being more stringent or paying closer attention because those are usually high window times for fraud. So, we wouldn’t necessarily try for a payment at three A.M. on a Sunday when it’s not usually a time that transactions are being made.
Trena: So, those are things that we put into place as well, these different types of suppression windows. And then another thing that we have is something called “retry rules”. So, we can set this up and we can try to get a payment from a card up to eight times, and so those are the retry rules that we have until we receive a successful payment. So, those are just some of the tools that we have in place to say, “These are simple things that are causing payment breakage but the payment breakage is translating into so many dollars for our clients”, and with these tools in place, we’re able to reduce churn and in the instance of Irish Times, itself, reducing churn significantly for clients; taking it from double-digit down into single digits.
Vahe Arabian: I just wanted to clarify, as well, with a MasterCard and Visa details, would you go and fetch someone’s name from there without obviously going, breaking the confidentiality and just making sure that their details are current, valid and if it’s not valid, then ask MasterCard and Visa to then update, or give you the updated details? Is that how that component works?
Trena: Yes, and no. So, in terms of when someone is making a payment, it’s not … So, we’re not going and fetching this information without any sort of previous authorization or approval from a client. Once that initial payment has been made and when it comes time to renew said subscriptions, so whether it’s on a monthly basis, a weekly basis, whatever the case may be, we, … After already having authorization from the user, if let’s say this user has been a client of yours for, or a subscriber of yours for, a year and a half and most cards expire within two years. So, this client has been subscribing for a year and a half and we’re noticing that their expiration date is coming up soon. What we have the ability to do, because we are a level one PCI DSS compliant payment processor and payment gateway, we have a relationship with MasterCard and Visa to as, this payment gateway to say, “Hey, we see that this card is about to expire, usually credit cards are sending you your new card way before the old one expires so that you, as a consumer, don’t have any lag in the ability to use your card”, and so when a new card number has been issued we are able to get it automatically from the credit card providers. So, that’s something that we have the ability to do as a payment gateway. It’s certainly not something … We’re not going behind anyone’s back and saying, “Hey give us this new information unbeknownst to you”. This is something that has already been authorized.
Vahe Arabian: That’s good to really clarify it. I appreciate that. I guess with … We spoke about the technological side about retention but there’s also the marketing side of, the business side where you’ve got people who subscribe as … Let’s forget about the subscriptions, for example. And then they say, “Oh, I forgot I had this subscription. I wasn’t to cancel now”. Is there any retention strategies or common things that you’ve seen, you know, MPP Global’s publishing clients have done or you know of which can help our audience in terms of retention?
Trena: Yeah. So, in other than the credit card specific details, what we have the ability to do if we see clients are looking for voluntarily churn is what we call “win back campaigns”. We have, again, within our retention and recovery module, the ability for clients to create these customer journeys to win them back if they have expressed that they are, you know, “I’m no longer interested. I would like to unsubscribe”. And so we can create a journey to find out why. Why are you looking to cancel the subscription? Is it ‘cause the cost is too high? Is it that the content is not pertinent to you? You’re not … Whatever the case may be beyond a just a, you know, cancel and I’m no longer interested. We can create these flows to find out exactly why and then offer the client, again, another opportunity to resolve whatever issue it is they have.
Trena: So, let’s say a client is looking to cancel and they said … We asked, “why?” And they said, “You know, it’s too costly for me”. Within, you know, … Automatically, we can personalize this customer’s journey to say, “Alright, it was $10.99 a month for you. You said that was too high, how about, you know, you try us again for another three months at a lower price point?” And so these are things that we have in place that, again, you can easily test and deploy to keep folks within your pipeline and within your funnel. Those are just some ideas that we have and then you know, of course, pre-built tools in place that our publishers use quite frequently, actually to better understand the consumers. Why are they looking to cancel and then, of course, let’s try to win them back with something that’s pertinent to them?
Trena: So, again, because we have the tools to track users, identify their behaviors … What do they like best? We can say, “Hey, you know, we know you originally signed up for business but then we’ve noticed that you’re accessing a lot of entertainment content. Would you like X? Would you like Z?” And so we can personalize and customize these offers to users to retain them and keep them in the funnel.
Vahe Arabian: How do you find though that even though you provide, for example, publishers might provide low prices for a few months … How do you find that being effective because if their major reason was the fact that the price was too high or they can’t afford that subscription anymore? How do you think that the fact that you’ve done that works? It helps audience members or readers to stay on.
Trena: So, in some instances it is, again, tracking the user behavior and then offering them what we feel would work best or giving them choices so that they can then choose what works best for them. For some folks that have come in for a monthly subscription and they’ve realized that if they’ve given a reason: I’m not accessing or using the content as frequently as I thought. We have the data that each client can then use to say, “Okay, if you’re … We’ve seen that you signed up for a monthly subscription for an all-access pass, but that’s not how you’ve been consuming the content and that’s a reason why you’re not trying to pay this price point for a full access”. Then there’s the opportunity to give them bite-sized chunks: “Hey are you interested in just accessing content on a daily basis?”
Trena: Let’s say you’re reading the news when you’re traveling for work and so, I want a commuter pass. Then that’s something else we can offer them. It isn’t necessarily said, “Hey, I can no longer afford it”. It’s figuring out then, a monthly subscription wasn’t working for you at X price point but would a commuter pass work for you? Would, … I just want to access this article because that’s all I’m, the information I’m interested in.
Trena: It’s having the data and then making that data actionable and saying, “okay, this is what we’ve tried. This wasn’t working for you. Or your behavior changed”. And then here’s something else that might better suit your behavior and better suit your needs.
Vahe Arabian: So, it’s an interesting point that you bring up. Does that mean that publishers should have multiple options in their pay content strategy or should they just try to make one work and then see how it goes?
Trena: Definitely the latter. There is, again, we’re in the age of personalization and customization and that is certainly prevalent in the publishing space, so again, to best serve your customers and best give them what they need, it definitely behooves a publisher to have multiple different content strategies. Now I’m certainly not saying that you should try all of them and see what works, but definitely publishers in their internal teams … They have their objectives and the goals that they are trying to hit and then they can try to test the multiple offers to see what works best. Because at the end of the day, what publishers are trying to do is best serve their audience and their customers, and so we’re giving you the opportunity and the flexibility to choose and have multiple different products, so you can certainly try and test what works and see whatever fits.
Vahe Arabian: What is the average number of products that MPPGlobal Clients have?
Trena: I can’t make this like general benchmark, but in many instances, we’ve seen either two or three that are taking place at the same time. So, like if a user cherry picks, there’s an opportunity: Do you want a monthly subscription for all access? Do you want like a day pass? So, it’s either two or three that is usually seen across different publishers.
Vahe Arabian: No, I understand. Definitely, this is a generalization, not specific. So….
Vahe Arabian: Just wanted to make that clear is all. Is there anything else, like creative strategies and retention strategies, like marketing plays that you’ve seen as well or are the ones that you mentioned previously … They’re just the main ones that have worked?
Trena: Ones discussed before were kinda the strategies that have worked, that I’ve seen in the past. Certainly excited for new things that come along and that marketing teams and creatives come up with, and whatever they do come up with, it’s something that our eSuite tool can handle. So, certainly excited to see what comes in the future.
Vahe Arabian: Well, what would you like to see come to the future then? If, you know, other creatives and publishers in house should be looking into them?
Trena: Nothing comes to mind at this exact point.
Vahe Arabian: That’s fair enough. Okay. Let’s look ahead now just in terms of the future of online subscriptions and MPP Global as well. So, if we can just start off with MPP Global, what’s the future plan of MPP Global and personally for yourself, for your professional development? What’re your future plans?
Trena: Got it. So, this year, MPP Global actually raised their first round of funding. Now mind you, the company’s been around for 17 years, so it was an incredibly exciting time for MPP in regards to getting this funding and using that, of course, to grow and scale the company. So, the headquarters is in the UK, as I mentioned. The NorAm team that I just started on in May has certainly expanded while we’re here. We also have offices in Japan as well as Dubai. And so, in terms of the future of MPP, it is certainly seeing the company scale and grow so that we’re able to service our different verticals across the globe, because … And just expanding the teams that we do have in the current outposts in NorAm, Europe, Middle East as well as Asia. And then again, we are a technology company and so it is, of course, a massive influx into our product and the innovation.
Trena: Because, again, as we work with our different clients, there is, you know … Every client is unique and every client has unique needs, and so when it comes to what client needs, how we cannot just solve their direct problem but improve and iterate the products that it’s that, you know … If this has been an issue for one of our publishing clients, or one of our OTT clients, how can we roll this into the product as a whole so that we can service all with this update or this innovation?
Trena: So, that certainly is something I’m excited to see for the future of MPP as we are ending out the calendar year but it’s still a fiscal year for us and so … Having the team grow, having new counterparts that come on board at all times and, of course, seeing the product continue to stay at the forefront and providing all the tools that our clients are requesting. Those are the things I’m excited about in terms of the future of MPP.
Vahe Arabian: Any major prior sneak peaks you can provide us that you guys are … MPP’s working on?
Trena: Nothing I can reveal at this time.
Vahe Arabian: Okay, fair enough. I have to ask, so.
Vahe Arabian: How about in terms of your professional developments and yeah … How does your professional development progress and … what would you give advice … What advice would you give to others who would want to be in a technology spacing publishing?
Trena: So, in terms of my professional growth and development, I mean, it is always exciting to work at a technology company, especially one like MPP because we are, as I like to call myself, a technology consultant because what is first and foremost is how can we solve a problem that you’re having? And then once we can solve your problem, how do we do that with technology? So for me, well understanding I work in the publishing space has been exciting because even though, you know, publishers have … And publishing entities I should better say, may have been slow to adopt certain, the new technologies, they certainly are the longest lasting and the most pervasive. So, it’s always exciting when new platforms come about, when current platforms are at this age of … Facebook subscriptions and Google News, etc. are embracing and providing opportunities for publishers to get their news out there.
Trena: Again, it’s a great space to be in regards to using technology to solve a problem for people that have been around for years, decades, centuries. For me, it is just continuing to work with publishers, whether slow to adopt or ones that are willing and able from an organizational standpoint to jump into new spaces sooner. But, at the end of the day, it is the ability to solve problems for folks who are providing us with tantamount pieces of information as our news and working to solve any issues they have. That’s what got me into the publishing space first and foremost. Its content is king. We all need information and the publishers are the ones that do that for us.
Trena: And then how do … I’m getting to solve issues that they’re having with technology. So, that’s how I’m in the space, it’s why I’m in this space, and advice for anybody who’s in this space is it’s just a matter of being on the technology side of things is an exciting and interesting place to be when it comes to working in the publishing industry.
Vahe Arabian: Awesome! And what do you see looking ahead … What do you see in the future of online subscription space being for a publisher? And how do publishers play a role in how to work with publishers being back in living for?
Trena: So, in the online subscription space, in particular, I definitely see it expanding and growing. I mean 2017 was a great year in regards to people understand that subscription revenue for content is certainly a viable avenue. The New York Times was one of the biggest publishers that did it first on a pervasive scale. With a company that size and people saw that it worked and they’ve been doing it for quite some time. To have Facebook come on board … To have other platforms come on board in terms of understanding that paying for content is a viable revenue stream was great in the space and so I’m excited for 2018 and years to come in regards to this being a model that can be close to, or even get on par with advertising revenues as important as that has been for the publishing industry. So, that’s what I’m excited about and that’s where I see things going.
Vahe Arabian: Awesome! Thank you for joining us. I really appreciate it, the talk that we had. Thank you very much.
Trena: You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.
Vahe Arabian: All the best.
Trena: Have a good one. Bye.
Vahe Arabian: Thank you for joining us on Episode 4 on the State of Digital Publishing Podcast. See you next time.