CiviCRM to Manage Magazine Subscriptions
Chris Ward’s DDU2012 session produced the initial ‘light bulb’ that CiviCRM might be what we were looking for and all our subsequent research shows that, with some work, at the very least there is no reason why it can’t work.
How does CiviCRM top other contenders?
Its open source and shares an incredible community of users who have a mutual interest in innovation and remaining relevant.
Its DNA incorporates great campaigning strategy from respected electioneers and fundraisers and it has proven ability to run big supporter databases and to generate revenue from memberships (or subscriptions in the case of a magazine as we will show).
CiviCRM also wins on setup cost.
Many proprietary rivals consider modules such as Mail, Reports and Membership as optional extras but CiviCRM has them built in.
Other CRMs typically need you to develop your website to fit their system (hard work), whereas, CiviCRM gives you a head start because its pages are automatically integrated in Drupal (easy!).
CiviCRM is the product of a lot of work by not-for-profits and people interested in healthy public engagement – it’s an open source success which the creators should be very proud of.
We think that a magazine like The Monthly ultimately promotes intelligent debate and fits this community quite will.
We hope it will also attract similar media organisation that produce public-interest journalism, an area that is typically supported by philanthropy – already a stakeholder in CiviCRM.
Gift subscriptions and memberships are a big deal for many organisations, especially The Monthly, but the gifting support in CiviCRM does not exactly work out of the box, yet!
On the website front-end both can be made to look simple and friendly but the back-end’s ability to manage gifts is a little immature for our back office requirements.
Gift improvements have been detailed on a project page as we join forces with the community to mature this feature.
Some of the language used in CiviCRM by default is not appropriate to an Australian organisation, particularly a magazine.
Using the handy ‘Word Replacements’ ‘option list’, some of the words we have substituted include: ‘Subscriber’ for ‘Member, ‘Payer’ for ‘Contributor’, ‘Demographics’ for ‘Constituent Information’.
The ability to globally change terminology is a fantastic feature.
Australia is one of the countries that require the recording of GST.
Receipts must show “the GST exclusive price, the GST amount and the GST inclusive price for each item, together with the totals for these”.
Until CiviAccounts arrives, this can be coded into the receipt template.
Rethinking subscriptions as memberships
Subscriptions are already quite similar to memberships.
Traditionally both have a start date, run for a period of time and then expire.
With memberships, a benefit is provided until the clock ticks down to expiry; whereas, with physical magazine subscriptions, a product is provided daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly etc.
By switching to CiviCRM we will be letting go of features in our current system that track what happens with every physical issue.
- How many issues are provided with a subscription (e.g. 22 issues over 2 years)
- It subtracts a copy from the subscription total as each dispatch occurs
- It shows how many issues remain at any point in time (e.g. you have 4 issues remaining on your subscription)
- The dispatch of each issue of the magazine is recorded as an activity against each subscriber record (e.g. we mailed the latest issue to you last Tuesday)
- It attaches useful data to each issue such as name (e.g. December-January) and defines it as ‘current’ or gives it number corresponding with its current status in the past or the future (e.g. … -3, -2, -1, Current, 1, 2, 3 …)
We are working to rethink our processes so that they can provide all this information using the ‘start’ and ‘end’ date provided in CiviMEMBER.
Modding the start-date
Another feature that magazine subscriptions usually offer is the ability for new subscribers to select what issue to commence with.
Most magazines provide the option to start with either the ‘next issue’ or the ‘current issue.
For example, if you subscribe sometime in July, you are given the option to start your subscription with either a copy of the July issue OR the August issue.
The challenge is how to make sure that the subscription in CiviMember actually delivers the correct number of issues they are entitled to.
If we don’t somehow subtract a portion of the membership after we fulfil a ‘current issue’ request, it is like extending the subscription with an extra issue.
Possibly the way to record that an extra issue has been added at the beginning of the subscription is to retrospectively set the start date so that the subscription ends one issue sooner than it would have if a ‘Current issue’ request had not been made.
This would than need to be flagged and put into a queue displayed on the customer service dashboard so that the subscriptions staff would know that they needed to fulfil the request.
However, would CiviCRM allow the CiviMember start date to fall before the date that the contribution was made?
We will be implementing other features of CiviCRM and sharing them along the way, including:
- Integrating CiviCRM into multiple sites using contribution forms from one Civi instance and on two separate Drupal sites
- Membership renewal discounts
- Creating a CMS account from within CiviCRM:
- Using Civi to manage permission to access digital subscription content behind a paywall
- Mailchimp group integration
- SMS gateway
- Using Events and Seating plans to record advertising bookings for specific spots on page plans
And much more …