Publishers once again have turned to online pay walls as a way of recouping a sagging top line and to monetize an increasingly expensive electronic content operation. For many publishers that have worked with a print-based fulfillment system, adding on a pay wall can work, but there are several pain-points to keep in mind that, ultimately, may require a complete overhaul if truly integrated product bundles are what they’re after.
Sage Publications, an academic publisher of print and electronic journals implemented electronic, paid access to its publications about four years ago. Emily Koberling, Sage’s senior circulation manager, admits that their paid system had to be force-fit into the fulfillment infrastructure, recognizing a better solution would eventually need to happen. "The system we had was not prepared for that. We had to do a lot of fudging," she said.
The company forged ahead anyway and built sufficient, if awkward, work-arounds. Market trends were quickly creating a new strategic imperative. "We had been siloed and our market was quickly moving to electronic delivery. You can’t isolate, the delivery has to be the same."
Sage is currently working on a new, ground-up in-house system that will allow greater flexibility. That system is about a year away from completion. Yet many publishers are still operating from legacy fulfillment systems, and if you’re planning to bridge your current fulfillment system to a paid access model, here are just a few of the hurdles you can expect to encounter.
Events Versus Time
Sage’s fulfillment system can recognize content type—print or digital, for example—and, once purchased, will send out the appropriate messaging to the customer. Print products are purchased on an event-based process, meaning a monthly publication is served up 12 times. If a customer buys an electronic product, it’s a time-based transaction, meaning the product’s term should start counting down from the day it was purchased. Time-based electronic purchases are also governed by an array of access parameters.
Sage’s system can’t handle time-based transactions. All purchases must be governed by event, which means electronic subscriptions are forced into a print schedule. This sets up a less than optimal arrangement. "It depends on the title, and when we publish, but we’re giving access to content longer than we want to. It’s rigid, and we recognize that. If it was time-based, we could control it much better," said Koberling.
With a fulfillment system built for print, setting up an earned revenue schedule that can handle the immediacy of electronic purchases is also very difficult. Earned revenue is forced into a monthly schedule, no matter what the channel, and as Sage’s print and electronic product bundlings become more complex, so go the revenue models. For example, Sage already has 63 different packages that are made from hundreds of titles. "Allocations have been a big pain point," said Koberling. "That’s another thing people need to consider—what is your revenue recognition point? It has to do with managing allocations of a bundled product."
Customer Records Management
Sage’s system allows perpetual access to the content you’ve purchased. In other words, once you buy content, you can continue to access that specific content forever. That, however, means Sage has to maintain those records forever. "Typically, you can purge your old fulfillment data," said Koberling. "We can’t do that anymore. We haven’t purged our data in 10 years, and because of the bundled products it’s getting exponentially huge. It’s taxing the fulfillment system and we’re looking at ways to lighten that."