Dual Subscriptions

Why use Dual Subscriptions?

Publishers sometimes view Apple’s App Store as a rather mixed blessing.

On the plus side, the iPad is seeing tremendous usage as a reading device, particularly for publications with rich content: full colour pages, highly designed layouts, embedded multimedia assets all play to the device’s strength and provide an unparalleled reading experience. And the App Store is the single biggest distribution channel for iPad content.

The App Store then took a further jump forward with the addition of Apple’s Newsstand. That brings together magazines and newspapers in one place within the Store, making it easier for users to browse through for interesting reading material and encouraging them to begin consuming that content regularly. Initial reports show the Newsstand has got off to a stunningly successful start: the New York Times received an immediate seven-fold increase in app downloads; Future Publishing reported a 750% increase in digital sales; Conde Nast saw subscription sales climb 268%.

The catch is the conditions Apple attaches. All sales through Newsstand and the App Store are subject to Apple’s 30% cut of the revenue; and the only information about the subscribers that the publishers receive is that which the subscribers agree to share. Since subscriber data is important for securing advertising, this weakens publishers’ income stream from that direction as well.

But marketing a publication without the App Store can be a lonely business. The Financial Times has famously taken this approach, but there’s been a striking lack of imitators following the trail thus blazed. Most publications simply don’t have the luxury of cutting themselves off from such a critical distribution channel.

The solution for most publishers is to sell through as many distribution channels as possible. However, this can’t be done piecemeal. Users who have paid for content once feel entitled to access regardless of the platform. A reader who has bought an online subscription to a title then finds that to read it on their iPad they need to make a separate purchase is more likely to leave angry reviews than to pay again.

The YUDU publishing platform solves this problem, with a feature called dual subscriptions. When an existing subscriber opens an app with this feature enabled, the user can provide login credentials and the app immediately grants them access to the content they’re entitled to.

Dual subscriptions workflow

How does it work?

To the user it’s as seamless and simple as logging in to get access. Behind the scenes the software has a complex three way communication task to organise, between the publisher’s website, the central YUDU platform, and the iTunes store.

Firstly, on signing up a new subscriber, the publisher’s website needs to provide their details to the YUDU platform. The smoothest way to do that is by sending the information over our web services API, although some companies prefer to use periodic bulk uploads of subscriber data instead. Another option is to use a third-party fulfilment house to handle the subscriptions and set up an integration between them and YUDU; the publisher can then take themselves out of the nitty-gritty of subscriber sign-up entirely.

When the user logs into the app, the device securely transmits their authentication credentials to the YUDU platform, which checks the credentials against its record of existing subscribers. Where the publisher has arranged an integration with a third party subscription fulfilment company, the platform can instead pass the authentication request on to an API provided by that company, to confirm the subscriber’s identity that way. If the subscriber is recognised, the platform grants them access to their owned content.

Conversely, when the user makes a purchase through the App Store, this is in the first place a transaction between the user’s device and iTunes. However, the software then reports the purchase back to the central platform, so that it knows allow that user to access the content in question. The platform needs to perform an additional exchange with iTunes to verify that the purchase is genuine. And that – apart from a couple of other checks to ensure users can’t spoof their way into content they’re not allowed to access – is that.

Making a bundle

A fairly typical figure quoted by one of our clients recently was that they were getting 62% of their sales through the App Store, and the remaining 38% through their website. That in itself is a compelling argument to not neglect either sales channel – both are important. But by allowing subscription sales outside Apple’s ecosystem, the dual subscriptions system also opens the door to selling bundles of content.

Apple’s Newsstand allows sale of title subscriptions and of single issues, but doesn’t provide a way to sell access to multiple titles at once. However, sales through a website aren’t subject to the same limitations. Publishers with multiple titles can set up multi-title subscription bundles, even where each title uses a separate app, and subscribers can gain access to all of them with a single purchase.

Discount codes are another option with huge potential – iTunes doesn’t support them, but publishers’ websites can.

And of course, whenever a sale takes place through the publisher’s own website, the publisher receives all the subscriber’s details.

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