Racing Post – A Conversation with James De Wesselow, Head of Subscriptions

MPP Global Monday, 15 April 2019

What You’ll Learn:

Racing Post was launched in 1983 with a daily racing newspaper and while that is still the core of their business, they are moving towards a 50/50 split between digital revenues and newspaper revenues. Part of that process included moving its subscriptions and payments to the eSuite platform from MPP Global, and James De Wesselow, Head of Subscriptions, tells us about the impact it’s had so far.

How long has Racing Post been working with MPP Global?

We went live with MPP Global in July 2015, but the selection process started about eight months before that. We chose MPP Global as our preferred supplier because we liked their approach to us as clients and we felt that they had a well-practised solution for migrating the existing product across.

We had a successful paywall solution that we had developed in-house, and it was really important to have a smooth migration of the existing payment system, packages and what those subscribers could access. MPP Global had that solution in place and they also had a well-thought-through migration plan.

The implementation process was good, the team involved was happy with the response from the MPP team. It’s very important that the data is secure, because you’re dealing with people’s financial data and the MPP team performed as we expected, the whole process went smoothly and we didn’t lose a single day’s transactions. We were also switching banks at the time, so needed to make sure our existing bank and new bank were in alignment and the data was securely transferred in that process, which also went well.

Why did you make the switch?

We had implemented the paywall on our site in 2008, which was relatively early in the paywall cycle, and we had developed the payment process and paywall in-house, which was fine back then, but increasingly we were finding that every time we wanted to make a change it involved deep drilling into the system and the actual overhead of running it, although it was partially hidden, when we did an analysis, it was quite high.

For that reason, we really wanted to go out to a supplier that was running these systems commercially for other people and get the benefit of a lot of additional functionality that we didn’t have on the old system.

The overall objective in going live was to implement our existing paywall and subscribers on the new platform seamlessly and securely, but another very important factor was that we wanted a PCI compliant provider to bring a very secure environment for our clients.

Which eSuite modules have you got?

The modules we’ve got are the Acquisition module and the Retention one. Acquisition has been successful in that it allows us to set up packages and offers very easily. Our marketing team or myself can do that quickly and easily; we didn’t want anything that required a deeper level of IT knowledge, and eSuite offers that in bundles, with excellent support.

The acquisitions have been really good. Part of the challenge is always acquiring new customers and also getting lapsed customers to come back in and both of those levels have been good and encouraging since we launched the eSuite platform.

With the Retention module we’ve implemented the card updater file, where the software will pick up expiring cards, will ship that through to the bank, pick up the expiry date and drop it back into the eSuite platform, and that’s really done good things to our churn rate.

Churn and retention are very important for anyone running a subscription platform. We didn’t really know what our churn rate was until we implemented the new platform. The churn rate is relatively high, but I don’t think it is out of the ordinary for our type of niche title. The platform does let us measure our monthly and annual churn rate and we can try and do things within the platform and out of it to mitigate against this and reduce churn.

What kind of offers and pricing strategies have you been utilising?

Within the Racing Post website, we have a freemium model where a large amount of the content is free and then there are two levels within our Members Club: one is called Essential, and that gives you access to some premium content, and then our top level is called Ultimate, which gives you access to more content, including all the editorial from the newspaper.

eSuite is really very easy to operate and to set up an offer. We’ve run a number of campaigns with various offers, from 50% off for one month to one month free to three months for 50% off. The latter two offers we’ve been running a lot in the last year, the one month free has been very successful and we’re now trying the three months for 50%.

In the meantime, we’re also doing lots of more focused offers, it’s really simple to set up and there’s a good interaction between myself and the marketing teams who want to run these trials and we can monitor the success on a daily and weekly basis.

What have been the biggest positives to come out of the switch?

One of the things I like best is the ease of use, we can set up marketing offers and have good flexibility. I also like that we are operating in a secure environment for the payment process, we’ve had no issues at all in that aspect.

Another good thing about MPP Global is that on our peak periods we know that the transactions will be processed quickly, there aren’t going to be any issues in terms of volume of people coming through the platform to start their subscriptions. So from that perspective, it’s been very successful.

We’ve also found working with MPP Global on custom developments really easy. Like with all suppliers, once you get to know the team it just gets easier and we’ve found them friendly and very receptive to custom developments like reports or other bespoke technical functionality that we require that probably isn’t required by most other publishers. The team at MPP Global have responded really positively, coming up with solutions that they implemented quickly and reliably.

What are Racing Post’s plans for the future?

The strategy over the last six to 12 months has been to relaunch our new responsive website, allowing customers to view our content on mobiles, tablets, wherever, and that has been successful so far. We relaunched in April 2018 and while there were a few people who didn’t like the new look, it’s overall been well-received. We’re now settled down and the strategy moving forward is to put some growth into our subscription products.

The next big goals for us are to continue to develop our platform behind the paywall. We’ve got a phase one of development which will roll out in the first quarter of the year and phase two will be more sophisticated tools behind the paywall with potentially a third package.

We also want to migrate our iPad edition into the subscription service and we’re developing a downloadable edition as well, which will connect to the MPP Global software to verify that the customer is an active subscriber. Those are our key objectives and I’m sure eSuite will perform well in allowing us to do that.

Our major target over the coming months and years are to make sure we can gently grow our subscriber numbers. We’re in a relatively mature market, having developed this in 2008, but we’ve identified a number of areas with more sophisticated tools, possibly different packages behind the paywall.

Read the full Racing Post Case Study here