Subscriptions and the Future of Research Publishing

The way publishers deliver research is changing…

Digital services of today – regardless of whether they’re online banking, shopping, or ordering a taxi – offer flexibility, convenience, and above all ease of use.

The result of this change is that end users now expect similar levels of service from all their digital providers – including research firms.

They want information that’s easy to discover, easy to access, then just as easy to use – and publishers that embrace this new requirement will lead the market and prosper.

This ebook looks at the ways smart publishing technology can empower publishers by helping them develop subscription services that, in turn, enable end-users to maximise their use of the publisher’s research information and data.

In addition, this ebook will help those who already offer digital subscription services to add finesse. To optimise operations and maximise the quality of service they offer to end users.

How smart licencing helps research firms evolve commercial models

Developments in digital technology have altered the way information is delivered and, perhaps more importantly, shifted how the customer wants to engage with that content.

These changes are fundamental for the future of the research industry – and those firms that want to be tomorrow’s leaders are already adapting to suit this new reality.

How are they changing?

By adopting a flexible sales model. This new approach is based around improved content delivery and seamlessly meeting the changing expectations and needs of the end-user.

Developing account journeys

This new reality of report publishing means firms need the flexibility to serve various customer groups – each of which has a very different requirement.

Some customers will only want to buy a single report, while others want to subscribe to one of many different content packages.

The goal for the publisher should be to service each of these groups distinctly while also encouraging single-report buyers to become subscribers and basic subscribers to become more reliant on their content.

Good publishing technology should offer end-users several

routes to access content and encourage them to deepen the relationship with the publisher.

So, it should manage subscriptions, but it should allow publishers to give content away for free, perhaps on a trial basis, and allow transactional sales too.

Targeted packages

Flexible licencing is the ability to tailor packages of content to suit different customer groups and manage the access rights around those packages – so, for example, how long is access available? Which people can view what content?

All customers are different, but once customers are into the account journey process, a publisher can then develop the relationship, build a unique offering, sell further packages and access, and move them to the point where a full subscription is both necessary and vital.

Not just all you can eat

The offering shouldn’t be a choice between simply blocking access or offering a whole portfolio.

Instead, a technology should offer the chance to develop the relationship – with the volume and period over which content access is granted changeable to suit the needs of the customer.

Upgrades and multiple users

Once a relationship is established it then becomes easier to find out what else they, and their employer, may need. Often, an individual will act as an advocate to help publishers win greater trust within their organisation and increase the number of subscriptions.

This is when the quality of a subscription software can really make a difference. It can help develop a lasting partnership with a client business as it will allow a publisher to offer upgrades to related content categories, create targeted packages to a budget, and to add and remove users at the touch of a button.

Building on trust

A good publishing platform should be an environment where additional services can be provided if they are need by the end-user.

For example, if an end-user is unable to find the information they need – or if they have questions – they might need to engage with an expert. If they can talk to a report’s author, this is likely to lead to up- and cross-sell consultancy opportunities.

A good publishing system should make it as easy to build on the trust that has already been established. It should allow users to access new services with the same simplicity with which it allows them to unearth content from within a portfolio.

A typical scenario:

A subscriber working in the technical department of a Financial Services company accesses all content on the developing FinTech market in the UK. This content is valuable to them, and they want to share it. The publisher can use their smart publishing system to offer six colleagues in that firm’s operations department time-limited access to the same content. At the end of this period, three of these people want to maintain this access and become annual subscribers. Through smart licensing a new department has been accessed with an existing customer and at renewal time comes the opportunity to grow everyone’s licenced access or to offer a content bundle to the whole of the operations department.

How moving to a subscription model helps research firms fix costs, remove revenue fluctuation, and then grow big…

The great benefit of a research business shifting from a transactional model to one based on subscriptions is that it helps the firm know its basic monthly income and be reassured that revenue will reoccur in the months to come, but often the cost-saving benefit and positive effect this can have on future revenues is overlooked.

Fixed costs = no headaches

The move to a subscriptions model usually means the adoption of a new piece of software through which the process, along with many other client-friendly functions, can be managed.

In fact, even firms that run an existing subscriptions model might consider upgrading their technology to offer end users a better level of service.

The selection of this new technology can be a vital decision and, often, can be the difference between a research firm’s new business model thriving or floundering. Use of the right SaaS system can keep your client relationships bubbling along nicely and help you know your costs into perpetuity.

How does it do this? By removing all the uncertainty associated with building an in-house solution.

An established serviced solution doesn’t have to be developed, tested, then managed and upgraded as it becomes old fashioned. A high-quality system will be in constant evolution; with upgrades and fixes applied each month, with no extra cost, with no downtime, and without the publisher having to build an expensive in-house team to support the technology.

Licencing a serviced software solution to manage research subscriptions takes all the risk out of this investment – and more importantly, it helps refocus research businesses around their core tasks of creating and selling research.

In fact, the challenge of running a research business is simplified; it no longer should be about managing the technical elements to provide research, it instead becomes refocused on increasing the value of the research publisher’s relationship with its clients.

Know your income, build on that income…

With all clients on subscriptions, and costs know upfront, a research publisher can begin to accurately forecast its minimum monthly income. This brings assurance – and a shift in focus.

With a known amount of base cash being brought into the business each month, sales teams won’t be troubled with having to bring in all that basic revenue. As a result, the main part of their jobs will be to become creative with the upsell and cross sell opportunities they offer to build extra profits on top of the month revenue subs.

The long-term sales focus therefore becomes: what can I do to improve the offering to this client? How can I deepen this relationship to make the service we offer better?

That’s no longer a salesperson and a target; that’s a working relationship.

When research subscriptions go bad – and how to prevent it

Picture the scene: you run a research firm that emails PDFs to clients, even though this fraught with opportunities for your report content to be used outside the agreed licence and doesn’t enable you to gather any feedback beyond registering to whom the report was originally sent.
You know your firm needs to move towards a subscription model where a technical solution is put in place to deliver content to clients – but even that is not without peril.
Alternatively, it might be the case that you already run a subscriptions model but feel like you need to change the technology on which it runs to shore up weaknesses in your operation.
So, when weighing up introduction of a new subs technology, what possible future issues should it be able to mitigate?

Retained access

By far the biggest headache for publishers using a less advanced subs system is around individuals leaving one job, but retaining access to a publisher’s content. This can endanger IP and damages revenues.
How does a publisher lessen the impact of this kind of behaviour?

Email and ID security

Smart subscription software can limit the impact unlawful access by only accepting log-ins from company email addresses and insisting on a two-factor identification.
When an individual leaves one role, it’s highly likely they’ll be shut out of their old email account; therefore, when the time comes for them to update their log-in details, they won’t be able to access the automated email asking that prompts this change, and their old long-in will become obsolete.
What’s more, two-stage verification of this kind discourages subscribers from sharing log-ins widely with friends and colleagues, as the need to regularly revivify becomes burdensome.

Mass downloading

The other nightmare scenario is that a subscriber downloads your entire portfolio and then fails to renew their subscription.
There are several ways a smart publishing system can help to alleviate this problem. The first is around access rights; if a subscription simply buys a client unrestricted access to a publisher’s entire portfolio (so called ‘all-you-can- eat subscriptions’) there is little in the way to discourage this kind of behaviour.
A smart system isn’t going to provide all-you-can-eat access to more than a handful of ‘power’ subscribers. It’s therefore unlikely that the opportunity will exist for a single person to download every piece of content. It’s also a significant deterrent that any information taken in a mass download would have repeated and regular use of the individual account user’s personal details across every piece of content.
An even more significant deterrent to mass downloading is management of the content. Any individual with access to an entire portfolio would also have access to the inbuilt workflow tools needed to search, edit, adapt, and make sense of all that information. A mass downloaded would also mean abandoning this suite of tools. Making sense of such a huge volume of content without these tools would be thankless, unrewarding, and an almost impossibly time-consuming task.

Customer behaviour, renewals, and engagement

Of course, using a smart publishing system can help mitigate a lot of the difficulty around mass downloads as the content usage of individual account holders is monitored in real time. Unusual behaviour can trigger alerts enabling the publisher to intervene.
Related difficulties around managing grace periods, blocking individual access, and dealing with expired subscriptions can also be dealt with through a system the feeds back rich account information to the publisher.
With a system that flags an individual’s poor or limited use of content, non-engagement, and upcoming renewals, the risk of non-renewal can be managed out of the client base through good quality customer service.
Individuals who aren’t making the most of their subscription can be given help by the publisher to maximise its value; this could be as simple as providing tutorials around use of workflow tools, or offers of content that’s more appropriate to their needs.
Whatever the issue for the customer, good quality behavioural information and a system of alerts can help the publisher enact a solution before the situation turns critical and a valuable source of revenue is lost.

How end-user tools are critical to the success of a research firm’s subscription model

When a customer buys a single report supplied over email in PDF format, they can just sit and read it. No functionality is required to help them do this. But if a subscriber has access to more than 100 reports, to make all that content work in their favour, they’re going to need some help to find and pull out all the necessary and pertinent information.

For the relationships that exist between all pieces of content in a portfolio to add up, and for customers to be able to maximise the value of their subscription, a publishing firm needs to provide end users with a set of smart tools.

Improved levels of service

For an individual subscription to be worthwhile, the user should feel like its benefiting them and helping them to their job better and quicker. A wealth of workflow tools not only helps the user achieve this, it helps a publishing firm understand more about what the user wants and enables them to feed this back into the development process.

So then, which tools are most useful?

Good quality search and the structuring of returns is vital. In fact, search is the number one workflow tool, in terms of usefulness to the subscriber. Corporates value search so highly some have been known to cancel entire global subscriptions because users have not been able to find the information they need from large portfolios.

If an end user is trying to make a comparison of data or analysis from multiple reports, it’s unlikely they’ll want to open all those reports simultaneously. A snippet of each relevant section is more useful. In addition, it might be quite handy for a user to view relevant returns for all reports – even those for they don’t yet have access to.

Relevant snippets of content should then be easily saveable in a clippings list, which is equally easy to locate later or compile into an executive summary.

So, you’ve found info. What next?

What about exporting various points of information, wherever they have come from and in whatever format, and unifying them all for export as an Office doc?

Search, find relevant content, save to clippings, and export to Word, PPT, or Excel in seconds. Then edit your document in the platform to finalise that dataset for your meeting, that presentation for the Board, or that report for your colleague, without having to reformat any of the elements it contains.

Smart tools = productive users

Once a subscription has been sold, the ability for the end user to easily navigate and pull together bespoke reports is the main element that will ensure high renewal rates. It’s this simplicity that will also encourage end-users to advocate use of the platform amongst colleagues and for a subscriber base to grow within that business.

How a subscription model helps publishers improve their knowledge of customer behaviour

If you run a research business looking to take the next step in its digital development, the reasons for adopting or upgrading a subscription-pay model are compelling:

  • Users can be offered a range of tools to maximise the value of their subscription
  • Content can be tailored to individuals
  • Costs can be fixed and income more accurately forecast
  • Security and renewal issues can be managed out

Throughout all these benefits runs a single golden thread that ties together and makes them possible – its analytical information.

The single most valuable aspect of adopting a subs model – or improving your existing approach through use of new technology – is how it enables publishers to reach a powerful new understanding of their customer behaviour, learn from it, and allow those messages to determine how the business develops in the future.

Content use

The beautiful part of a subscription model is that the more users engage with a publisher’s content, the more the publisher understands about that material. That understanding can underpin decisions on which content to refresh regularly, which to market to particular groups, and where to focus its analyst’s time in the months and years to come.

  • What content is popular? Which isn’t? Should you create more popular material?
  • Does older content seem less popular? How can you refresh it to keep it relevant?
  • Which pieces of content are typically accessed together? What about creating a bundle?

The sell

Enhanced customer information doesn’t just make it easier to know which piece of content to author next, it can also provide compelling information on how, when, and what to sell to new and existing customers:

  • Sell content that’s more appropriate for particular audiences
  • Is a customer renewal around the corner? Then why not incentivise this?
  • Is a user or group focusing on a particular topic or company? Then why not cross- and upsell related content?
  • Do you have a group of disengaged subscribers? Then use analytics to help work out a way of refocusing their attention or create an alert for a personal call and chat
  • Which account managers are doing well? What can the others learn from them?
  • Can you identify power users? What incentives can you offer for them to become your best advocate to the rest of their business?
  • What content is being authored, but rarely used or even seen?
  • Who are the popular analysts? Who writes the most popular content?

Analytics underpins every aspect of a smart publishing platform. It enables a subscription model to exist, but more importantly it adds incredible value to that subscription or produces the information to turn things around when renewals look like falling off.

Analytics helps powers the system. It keeps every key function running smoothly by revealing what works, what doesn’t, and what parts of the business need enhancement.

How a single publishing platform can service multiple customer groups

Running several different publishing platforms to serve different types of customer can be a minefield. The overheads are increased, staff must be hired and trained to run multiple sites, and with all the added complexity upkeep and maintenance can be a nightmare.

So why bother?

Instead of running academic clients on one platform, commercial partners on another, and professional service clients on a third, why not run them all from the same software that simply lets you tailor the experience depending on who is logging in?

One platform to rule them all

An academic institution, for example, might want a co-branded site with a generic log-in used by students and staff. That log-in allows them access to recuts and brief versions of content – rather than a publisher’s whole portfolio.

Instead of establishing a separate, templated system for academic bodies, a smart publishing system will use log-in credentials to identify the customer and present appropriate content.

Professional services

Similarly, a publishing company might own several different research brands. While these brands serve their distinctive markets well, there might be a need for professional service clients to have access to all the content produced across every brand – and they won’t want to log-in to half-a-dozen different systems.

The offering for these clients should be tailored within a single destination to access all this content, which, by the way, also runs each of those other branded research sites – it’s just that these won’t be visible to the professional services clients.


With a good publishing system, all different client types can be served with a single site. Publishers don’t even have to upload different edits to serve their various customers, the system should be sophisticated enough to make available relevant sections and hide the remainder.

Tailor by categories

In fact, a smart publishing system should be able to hide whole categories of content that aren’t available under certain licences and deliver only appropriate research and data.

By applying three levels of visibility to each category, publishers can offer corporate and research customers a unique experience without ever having to edit content to do so.

The three levels of visibility are:

  • All content in a category is discoverable and accessible
  • Some categories – where content is not licenced – are only discoverable, not accessible (this helps market new topics beyond an existing licence)
  • Content in certain categories is neither discoverable or accessible

By using a mixture of these access levels, publishers can create a bespoke content service for each customer they service.

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