From free to paid subscription: a report on the FTTE transition so far

FTTE logoIn September I announced that the FTTE report would no longer be a free publication.  Instead, it would transition to a paid subscription model.

How has that turned out?

Here I’ll share the story, including data and my analysis, in the spirit of openness.  Ever since I launched myself on this unusual career I’ve tried to share as much of the experience as I could, and want to keep on with that strategy.

When the FTTE transition began, there were about 2,025 subscribers to the free report.  So far, as of this writing, 62 people have signed up for the new model, or about 3% of the original population.  Some joined through Patreon, pushing the number of supporters there to 104 (hurrah!), while most went the direct PayPal route.

On the one hand, this 62 number saddens me.  What a major drop-off.  That’s far too many people who are no longer connected to the research.  Also, it represents way too many who don’t (so far) see value in FTTE.

On the other, the number who did transition over means more than 60 people found serious value in the report, which is very, very heartening.  Additionally, many signed up with extra expressions of support, which was grand.

To my surprise nobody issued criticisms of the publication shift, at least none that I received personally or came across online.  I was expecting some pushback for an anti-open move, but nothing so far.

Moreover, that 3% conversion rate might actually be nominal or even a bit high for this kind of thing.  One observer claims 1% is typical for switching from free to paid, at least in terms of freemium software:

A really good conversion rate for free-to-paid is 4%, like Dropbox. Awesome for them, but normal rates are more like 1%, and that’s if users are reasonably active. [emphasis in original]

So is 1% is normal, 3% is much better, and heading towards the “awesome” of 4%.  Good.

One surprise that occurred during the transition process was requests for institutional memberships.  We launched the new model with individual options (PayPal or Patreon) only, but a growing number of people asked for an option to sign up as a university, as a library, or an association.

So my wife and I conducted a crash course of research into institutional subscription models.  We reached out to colleagues and consultants.  We built and discarded models that took into account IP address restriction, document watermarking, subscriber size (FTE, endowment)… then offered instead a very simply version: $600 per year, no restrictions, as many email addresses as the client likes.  Within days of launching it a half-dozen institutions signed up, then several more.

That is terrific, especially as each subscription means (hopefully!) more than one reader at a given institution.  The 62 number is actually much larger, conceivably, so FTTE can expand conversations.

Summing up: so far, this looks like a qualified success.  FTTE now achieves some support for the work I put into it.  It may approach sustainability in the near term.  There is room to grow (and yes, you might consider signing up on this Black Friday!); perhaps if numbers keep rising we can divert some of the revenue into paid research and/or graphic design.

Please join us!  Individuals and institutions alike are most welcome.





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6 Responses to From free to paid subscription: a report on the FTTE transition so far

  1. Lance Eaton says:

    2 thoughts on this. I think many of those 2000 may value your work, but when the price was introduced, it raised the question of commitment. That is, they may have accessed the Future reports occasionally (grazed) but once the price was introduced, then it raise the question of having to get the full value and read all of them–and if they’re like me at all, that’s probably a commitment that’s a challenge to fulfill given all the other things I feel obligated to read. I do wonder if you provide a freemium version that gives people a taste and/or an option to buy one-offs based on the subject/content covered if that will open up more opportunities.

    2nd thought: I don’t think the open community would take you to task (at least this member isn’t). You’re an independent label, directly creating content, passing off directly to customers; that’s a different beast than faculty being paid to produce research that they give away to publishers who sell it at exorbitant rates back to individuals and institutions…if scholarship acted more like this, I think there would be less interest in the open movement.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Hello, Lance!

      Good point about commitment. Reminds me of how I sometimes subscribe to the New Yorker, then fall behind because each issue can just be so rich.
      Perhaps I should publish a freemium one that’s lighter?

      Thank you for thoughts re: open. It seems a lot of academics don’t grasp what I’m doing, or that I’m working without a net.

  2. Roger Schonfeld says:

    Congratulations Bryan. I’m really pleased that FTTE is adding to the revenue mix that makes BAC sustainable. With warm Thanksgiving wishes and looking forward to seeing you this week-

  3. Matthew Henry says:

    Curious on what’s happening here. When you sent out the 2,025 were you using a Mailchimp like platform that gave you open and read rates? Maybe you really had commitment as Lance mentioned was really there for the 100 rate?

  4. Phil Katz says:

    Two thoughts for you, Bryan: First, I would strongly recommend a light, freemium version of FTTE, perhaps including access to some of the backlist. This will help introduce new readers to your work and remind those of us who have not yet become paid subscribers what we’re missing. Second, has anyone else raised the issue of the gap in price between a straight subscription to FTTE and Patreon support? I’m a Patreon supporter at $5/month and I haven’t decided yet whether I should cough up the extra $5 to get FTTE or convert to a PayPal subscription (I’m leaning towards the latter, because the other Patreon benefits seem marginal to me, and my original intent in becoming a patron was to support your general work rather than obtain specific benefits). I don’t want to pry, but which payment actually puts more money in your pocket?

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