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May 17, 2007
Case Study

How Site Raised Subscription Rates 60% -- Yet Achieved 18.8% Lift

SUMMARY: What if you need to update your subscription-based website while your bosses are pushing for a rate increase? Sounds like you may have to enhance some existing features and create some fresh content to keep your current users happy and attract new ones.

See how one religious site repackaged their content and added tagging and internal search functionality, as well as a blog and other Web 2.0 features. Even with a 60% price increase, they've grown subscriptions 18.8%.
Whoever said, “Don’t mess with success,” hasn’t talked to the marketers at The subscription-based website that allows pastors to download story ideas, outlines and other materials for their sermons found quick success after it launched in 1999, generating a healthy 25% gross margin and a 60%-70% subscriber renewal rate. (See our 2001 Case Study in the links section below.)

But after seven years of pretty much the same-old, same-old, it was time for a fresh look, especially since annual subscriptions were about to increase 60%. So in 2006, Cory Whitehead, New Product Development and Marketing Specialist, Christianity Today International, and his team set out to relaunch the site.

They knew they had learned enough about their subscribers and the cross-marketing potential offered by their parent company, Christianity Today, to do better. Whitehead also wondered if they could improve site functionality and search features and possibly throw some Web 2.0 into the mix.

CAMPAIGN was built as a practical resource for sermon topics and story ideas, known as “illustrations.” Because the emphasis is on the quality of those illustrations, not the quantity, they simply couldn’t keep adding more to their library of 10,000 topics without jeopardizing their claim of only offering the best possible content.

But Whitehead and his team knew they needed more material to attract new subscribers, retain the existing ones and justify a subscription price increase. “I can’t think of a time when we’ve increased a price without giving more value.” Here are the five strategies they followed:

-> Strategy #1. Add new premium features

First, they discussed what today’s pastors needed more help with and what was and wasn’t already on the site somewhere and what could be easily added. Among the changes:

o Sermon series builders, which provide topics and outlines for multiweek sermon cycles
o Sermon titling tools, to help preachers come up with attention-grabbing names for their sermons
o Videos, PowerPoint slides and other media to display during sermons

-> Strategy #2. Improve internal search/browsing functions

Along with the new features, Whitehead’s team reorganized their existing content and revamped the site’s search functions to make it easier for users to find sermon material based on subjects, particular Biblical verses and other factors. “This is the Google culture. People are used to typing something in and getting what they want.”

Next, they created a proprietary tagging and filtering system that labeled every sermon illustration, outline or other piece of content with dozens of keywords into four categories:

- Topics -- positive notions, such as accountability, contentment, leadership, wisdom and prudence; negatives notions, such as pride, envy, folly, greed and sin; and Christian tenets, such as the power of prayer, faith and knowing God.
- Filters -- broad categories or context for sermons, including pop culture, sports, work and career, humor, money, marriage and sex, youth and children.
- References -- specific Biblical verses cited in the sermon.
- Tone -- neutral, warn or commend.

-> Strategy #3. Repackage content and cross promotion

As a member of the Christianity Today series of websites and publications, Whitehead and his team used several techniques to repackage the existing content for use on their own site, as well as promoting content in other locations:

o A section in the quarterly print publication Leadership Journal
o Creating text transcripts and MP3 audio sermons for from a Christianity Today monthly CD sermon series
o A new spin-off site called that sells videos, PowerPoint slides and other multimedia features to augment sermons

Although a separate site with a pay-per-download pricing structure, had been fully integrated with, so users searching for an illustration saw results for video and multimedia materials that matched the same criteria offered at members received a 20% discount on materials purchased at

-> Strategy #4. Incorporate Web 2.0 features

Like others, Whitehead was interested in Web 2.0 -- but only those features that fit with their business model. Because of the site’s focus on the best sermon resources from nationally renowned preachers, the editorial team still solicited most of the content that’s added to the site, rather than throwing the gates open to user-generated content.

Instead, they added two features letting users:
o Rate and review illustrations
o Sort results by popularity

Whitehead also added a blog so they could deliver information faster than possible through their weekly email newsletter and save users a step when searching for relevant time-sensitive content.

-> Strategy #5. Lift annual subscriptions with add-ons

To convert visitors to subscribers -- and encourage them to choose an annual subscription instead of a monthly one -- Whitehead’s team created a package of free gifts worth more than the $79.95 annual subscription rate.

The premium package offered $104 worth of free content and products from’s sister sites, including:

o $25 gift certificate to
o $25 gift certificate to
o $25 gift certificate to
o Three months of free access to


The site relaunch is working great. In fact, Whitehead and his team have boosted the number of subscribers 18.8%, even after raising the annual subscription price from $49.95 to $79.95. “That growth is attributable to higher renewals and listening to our audience to give them the new features and content they wanted.”

Since the relaunch, they're getting 85% renewal rates from annual subscribers.

The extra features have already attracted quite an audience: In April 2007, new features accounted for 70% of the top 10 pages viewed on

As a result of the cross-promotion and 20% discount on materials purchased at, 35% of's orders come from members.

The blog is allowing Whitehead and his team to react to current events in a more timely fashion. For example, immediately after the April shootings at Virginia Tech, editors put up illustrations to help pastors address the situation in their sermons the following Sunday.

Offering a large premium package for annual subscribers has been a big success in terms of convicing users to choose the annual option. The vast majority (88%) of subscribers choose the annual option, with only 12% of's revenues coming from monthly subscriptions.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from

Past Sherpa article: - The Story of a Profitable Subscription Site:

Christianity Today:

Faith Visuals:

See Also:

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