How to Close the Subscription Gap and Turn Free Users Into Subscribers

Close the Subscription Gap | Sterling Woods Group & Wallit

This week’s article comes from Tim Hunter of Wallit, a tool publishers use to monetize their content.

What Is the Subscription Gap?

If you’re anything like your colleagues and competitors, your publication has fewer paying subscribers than it does free users. This is an issue many publishers face, regardless of size. The goal, of course, is to get more subscribed readers, but moving free users along the funnel to become subscribers can be a difficult process. This difference is something we refer to as “The Subscription Gap.”

The subscription gap has been overlooked since the dawn of the internet—but we are ready to change that.

What Can You Do About the Gap?

By taking small actions that introduce users to different subscription options, you can help users cross the gap to become paying subscribers. This buyer’s journey may look different for each user, so you’ll need to offer several ways to bridge the gap in order to ensure you meet each customer at their individual pain point. If you do, more free readers will become paying subscribers.

There is no one single way to move a free user across the subscription gap, which is why we recommend a variety of tools and techniques. The main goal is to get a free user to pay for content. That could be an introductory offer, or perhaps a few daily subscriptions to get their feet wet. Make the purchase process clear and simple to ensure the reader remembers the interaction positively.

3 Steps to Closing the Subscription Gap

1. Encourage Account Creation

The first step to getting a free user to pay for content is to have them create an account. Consider gating your content with access dependent on creating a new account with the publication. Only after the user account is created can they can access any content within that pricing group.

With an account, you now have a means to communicate to that reader. It’s important to nurture your relationship with your reader carefully during this phase. An offer for a free daily pass to access all content may help the reader see value in your content and nudge them further along the funnel. However, emailing a user who only just created an account and asking them to buy a yearly digital membership for $175 is too much.

Think of it like a dating courtship. You ask your date to move in after the first date, do you? Baby steps is the key!

2. Create Incentives

Everyone loves a deal. Entice your free, registered users to try out different subscription options by offering them a promo code. Again, remember to start small—don’t ask the reader to jump the whole gap in one try. Offering 10% off a yearly digital subscription might be too big of an ask.

However, if you have a reader that has taken you up on past offers for more incremental subscriptions, perhaps they are ready to make the leap. Each reader’s journey varies, and it’s important to understand, respect, and react accordingly to where they are on that journey.

3. Promote a Variety of Offers

Not everyone can be enticed by a perfectly crafted email message with just the right offer. Your only opportunity to communicate with certain users is at the point of sale. Imagine a user has been served the paywall. Like your other free users, they have never purchased anything from your site.

This user already knows you offer a monthly or yearly digital subscription. But if those are the only two selections you offer on the paywall, it is highly unlikely the reader will purchase. They already know about those offerings. But, if the paywall offered a daily pass or a bundle of articles with no expiration, the reader might be more interested. If they make a smaller purchase first, you can then start to show the value of a larger monthly or yearly subscription.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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