Digital Directions: At Your Service
Subscription services can generate significant value for both publishers and consumers. If appropriately executed, publishers can create new annuity revenue streams from subscriptions. One of the attractive aspects of subscription revenue is often its stability (and predictability) when compared to a typical product-revenue pattern.
For consumers, subscription access represents an offering in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Clearly, not all market segments may be appropriate for subscription delivery. Professional information—e.g., law, scientific, technical and medical (STM) or finance—is clearly a good fit, as are educational offerings that support online learning. In both cases, great value is provided through access to a wide array of information. Opportunities also may be found in family health, automotive and culinary content, to name just a few.
A number of well-known distribution partners, for years, have aggregated publisher content into databases on a subscription basis, primarily accessed through libraries. The scale of these providers' digital content is impressive. However, huge subject breadth creates other challenges: There is often a lack of focus in any specific domain or subject vertical.
Greater value seems to be generated by smaller programs that have greater focus, such as those offered by Knovel in the engineering/technical domain, or Alexander Street Press in humanities scholarship. When there is a subject-domain focus, there is a curatorial value added, more precise tagging and indexing, and a better understanding of the subscribers' goals.
Can publishers create their own subscription services and not get rolled up into an aggregator's offering? In some cases they can, if certain criteria are met. When a publisher has both a leading position in a subject domain and a critical mass of content in that domain, then the creation of a subscription-based model should be explored. The University of Chicago Press successfully launched a subscription offering based upon one title. Since that title was the "Chicago Manual of Style," the criteria were met.