Can You Boost Nondues Revenue With E-Learning Subscriptions?
Inspired by the popularity of services like Netflix, the American Planning Association moved from a la carte e-learning courses to a subscription model. The change offered subscribers a wealth of content and gave the association more predictable revenue over time.
The American Planning Association took lessons from the boom in subscription services like Netflix and Disney+ to transform its a la carte e-learning platform into a subscription model. The change not only increased revenue, but also made the income more predictable, said Elizabeth Lang, APA’s communications and marketing director, who spoke during ASAE’s 2022 Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference back in May.
“We did not meet our numbers with the a la carte model,” Lang said. “With our subscription service, we’ve exceeded our first-year budget and revenue goals, and we’re only eight months after the launch.”
Lang spoke alongside Michelle Markelz, managing editor and digital marketing specialist at GLC, during the “Making Non-Dues Revenue Predictable: Marketing Subscription E-learning” session.
APA hadn’t originally intended to do a subscription service, believing it would have predictable income based on individually priced sessions people would buy as they neared certification renewal deadlines.
“We were basing it on the idea that every other year, people were finally either taking their courses or logging their courses and that would drum up to a lot of sales,” Lang said. “That was a lot less consistent and predictable than a subscription.”
Start With a Pilot
With the individual course sale model not working, APA decided to pilot the subscription model. “When we did the a la carte model, we went home, we built it, we perfected it, we went all in, and then it didn’t work,” Lang said. “So, we’ve been doing more of a trial with this, piloting it and testing it.”
For the pilot, APA offered six months of access to all the content from an online conference about to take place.
“We were hoping to not continue giving all the sessions away as part of your registration,” Lang said. “The question was, would it work? Would people want to do it? Well, over 90 percent of the people [who registered for the conference] bought this.”
With that success in mind, APA decided to expand its offerings and build out the subscription service to include all its courses. They hired Markelz to help. First, she had staff look at their favorite subscription services and determine what they liked best about them. Next, she recommended thinking through what APA wanted users to get from its subscription service.
“We wanted to try to capture in words what that user experience is going to be like,” Markelz said. “Are people going to feel like this is very exclusive and luxurious? Are they going to feel like it’s actually open to everyone? Are they going feel like this is something that helps them take charge of their career?”
When APA thought about those questions, they came up with answers that guided how they developed the service. “They wanted this product to feel like a necessity, not just nice-to-have,” Markelz said. “They wanted people to feel like learning was not just a box to check in order to maintain certification, but something you do to take charge of your career and to advance your professional development.”
APA added all of it’s previously a la carte courses to the subscription service, which it branded Passport. Users can still purchase courses separately—and a few do.
“There’s one session about design thinking,” Lang said. “The price of that is actually more than a year’s subscription and people buy it. So, there are just people who are not quite ready to do a subscription.”
The subscription model also has some bonus selling points for subscribers.
“If they choose a course and get halfway through it, or even 15 minutes in, and decide, ‘It’s not what I thought’ or ‘I’m not really into this,’ they don’t feel like they’ve sunk the money and have to keep going,” Markelz said. “They can find something else. Also with the subscription, there was only one time that they had to ask for approval for funding from their organization, as opposed to, ‘Every time I need a credit, I need to go ask for money.’”
While APA’s subscription program has been popular, Lang notes some members expressed frustration that they now must pay to get a replay of an online conference.
Lang said it’s important to make distinctions and point out what people are getting. For example, APA allows online conference attendees to get the replay for the rest of the month, but if they want extended access, it is through Passport. “It’s about finding creative ways of telling people what they are getting, why this is really good for them, what else they get, and why it’s worthwhile,” Lang said.