Collectif Top Stories
7 mins read

“Media companies should consolidate their products into a single flow, not across multiple systems”: AdvantageCS interview

In advance of Mx3 Barcelona (12-13th March 2024), an off-the-record international summit focusing on innovation in and across media verticals (B2C & B2B), we talk to one of the event’s key partners, AdvantageCS. TL;DR: Innovation in subscription and billing management is coming thick and fast, but so is market saturation, and only the best will survive.

Headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but with an international footprint, resides one of the leading subscription and product order management platforms, AdvantageCS. Boasting clients that include Bonnier, Aller Media, Hearst Business Media, Informa, the American Medical Association and many others, the company has a rarified overview of current subscription trends.

It comes at a time of huge disruption within media subscriptions and, it must be added, a descending fog of uncertainty. This is borne out by online subscriptions continuing to grow, but high rates of attrition reducing any impact. As Philippe van Mastrigt writes in AdvantageCS’s end of year round up, digital subscription growth has slowed sharply.

Inflation certainly amplified these difficulties. To illustrate, in the nearby streaming sector, key players have watched their subscriptions fall by 3 million in the UK in the past year.

Philippe van Mastrigt, AdvantageCS

Mastrigt points out that other commentators, such as Bryan Goldberg, believe that the change is more systemic, and writes, “There is a rapid shift from print to video, primarily driven by the digital platforms that are pushing this format. The current streaming penetration rate outstrips that of news subscriptions by a factor of four. Goldberg contends that this is not a reflection of the potential growth for news subscriptions, but rather of waning interest.”

In the face of such disruption and uncertainty, as well as profound AI innovation, we talked with AdvantageCS’s Chief Solutions Architect, John Sheehy, to get a pulse of the market, as well as take a look ‘under the hood’ of AdvantageCS’s product offerings.

Mx3 HQ: What are the current trends you are seeing in the market?

AdvantageCS: This year was unique in that what we saw in one market was the opposite of what we saw in other markets. The right answer is… it depends. For example, the academic market is seeking new revenue streams due to open access momentum while at the same time fighting the beginning of the AI content war. Although the boxed subscription market appears to be tightening, those that can make it stand to do well where the hyper customization approach is losing favour due to cost benefit.

The B2B market seems poised for mergers as the larger players have the infrastructure necessary to reach the customers and the operational efficiency to reduce costs. General B2C content will likely continue to decline while niche publishers will continue to see stability. 

Mx3 HQ: What other developments are you seeing?

AdvantageCS: An interesting trend we think is coming is the market saturation of software platforms. For example, there are over 100 billing platforms available today, but they are having difficulty differentiating themselves and not all will survive. We see this in other markets like FinTech and MarTech where the major challenge will be whether those platforms can continue to innovate and attract customers at the saturation point.

Our main competitive market, subscription management platforms, had already gone through a bit of this in 2023 and we expect to see more this year. We are well positioned with our highly diverse set of clients, best-in-class software, and company leadership. 

Mx3 HQ: Can you tell us more about AdvantageCS?

AdvantageCS: We have been developing software for publishers since 1979 and we are a trusted partner of many global information companies. We are the developer of Advantage – the premier marketing, subscription, order management and membership software for media companies. Advantage can manage their digital subscriptions, entitlements, magazines, bundles, e-products, continuity programs, payments, memberships, conferences and events, telemarketing and customer service. We also provide an integrated eCommerce platform which includes shopping cart and customer self-service functions, single sign-on, business intelligence, digital payment methods, EFT, direct debit, and credit card processing.

We’re built specifically for media companies, and we can integrate securely into any ecosystem, providing rich data for marketers to promote new bundles of products, re-package compelling content, and find new revenue streams through broad functionality.

Mx3HQ: What markets do you target?

AdvantageCS: Traditionally, we have targeted publishing markets. This encompasses STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), business-to-consumer, and business-to-business publishers. We also have a presence in the service bureau markets leveraging our solutions, which serve similar client markets. More recently, we have started penetrating more general subscription markets for business models such as digital-only subscriptions, recurring billing models, and box-of-the-month style subscriptions. 

Mx3HQ: What specific solutions do you offer?

AdvantageCS: Advantage supports publishers’ entire order-to-cash spectrum including everything from product setup and pricing all the way through distribution. This spectrum contains feature-rich capabilities for order entry and customer service functions, renewal and billing processing, marketing elements, and accounts receivable just to list a few. Advantage also maintains its open system approach through the availability of a wide variety of integration options. In addition to the core offering, AdvantageCS offers a fully integrated eCommerce and self-service platform, Cider Plus. As most of our clients are publishers of content, we offer a fully integrated single sign-on (SSO) solution to manage customer authentication and entitlement access as well. 

Mx3HQ: Is an end-to-end subscriptions solution necessarily the best fit?

Advantage CS: No! The best fit is the architecture that satisfies a business’s current and future goals. The market goes in waves of best-in-breed approaches vs. one-system-to-rule-them-all. We’ve always told clients (and prospects) to make the decision that is best for your organization, not what is trendy.

That said, for an end-to-end system, the biggest benefits are found in reducing system integrations and enhanced data hygiene. Those two alone have huge benefits to an organization from operation efficiency to customer communication to actionable reporting. Ultimately, an end-to-end system will likely cost less as well, rather than licensing many applications, paying resources to connect everything, and/or internal costs to build your own components. 

A modular approach can be incredibly beneficial. For some ecosystems, clients may already have platforms in place serving other parts of the business that make more sense to maintain across business units, rather than fracturing a business unit that Advantage is on by migrating functions to Advantage’s platform. It is critical that prospective clients take a step back and look at what they have and what they need before going to market for system(s) replacement. 

We also understand that our solutions can’t cover every possible function a business may have. In these areas, we find industry-leading partners. For example, we partner with a leading-edge online marketing platform that delivers AI driven optimizations. 

Mx3HQ: What are the key considerations for choosing an order management platform?

AdvantageCS: Business requirements. Choosing a system based solely on one business unit’s requirements will not end well. All the business units need to come together to get a comprehensive view of what capabilities are required of a system. This may sound controversial, but the marketing team will need to work with the technology team who will need to work with the fulfillment team who… to get that wholistic view. This ensures that no one is left behind in the process. We would also strongly encourage organizations to consider future growth—ensuring the platform can keep up with business growth (scale) and expansion (feature breadth). A platform that is good today needs to have a strong company behind it, so it still excels in 2y, 5y, 10y, etc. 

Mx3HQ: How does your system handle a multi-product approach?

AdvantageCS: Ideally, organizations want to consolidate their products into a single flow for a host of benefits. Splitting products over multiple systems causes unnecessary inefficiencies where there is little room for error. A platform needs multi-product support to truly power an organization’s business. Advantage supports over 20 revenue models covering everything from subscriptions to books to donations. And with those models comes the benefit of bundling.

If you can’t bundle products in today’s environment, then you’re simply missing out on revenue opportunities. Bundling really opens new avenues for marketers to cross-pollinate brands or breathe new life into existing products. Advantage boasts incredible flexibility with combining products, whether they are similar or different—combining multiple digital subscriptions, bundling print and digital, packaging eBooks with digital subscriptions, etc. Advantage supports these through the entire lifecycle as well, all the way from the online purchase through to reporting. 

Mx3HQ: How does your system help clients drive revenue, strengthen customer loyalty, and facilitate operational efficiency?

Advantage has been shaped over time to deliver exactly what our clients need in the most efficient way possible. We work directly with our clients and industry consultants to push new enhancements every month. The focus is always on delivering new features that solve our clients’ business requirements.

Within the last few years, a large development focus has been on building features that help drive revenue by enhancing bundling options, adding new payment methods, and giving marketers more flexibility and visibility into the offers they want to create. We also understand that most organizations are not increasing operational staff, so we have been ensuring that core Advantage processes can be run automatically to eliminate the need for manual intervention. 

You can meet AdvantageCS at Mx3 Barcelona 12-13th March 2024. The event is an off-the-record international summit focusing on innovation in and across media verticals (Consumer & B2B). The event also offers opportunities to meet 1-on-1 with industry experts as part of our Mx3 Huddles concept, as well as time for social interaction. Come and join us!