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Xs:code launches subscription platform to monetize open-source projects

By Ron Miller

Open source is a great source of free tools for developers, but as these projects proliferate, and some gain in popularity, the creators sometimes look for ways to monetize successful ones. The problem is that it’s hard to run a subscription-based, dual-license approach, and most developers don’t even know where to start. Enter Israeli startup xs:code, which has created a platform to help developers solve this problem.

“Xs:code is a monetization platform for open-source projects. Unlike donation platforms which are pretty popular today, xs:code allows open-source developers to provide added value in exchange for payments. That comes on top of what they offer for free. This added value can be a different license, more features, support services or anything they can think of,” Netanel Mohoni, co-founder and CEO of xs:code told TechCrunch.

This does not mean the open-source part of this goes away, only that the company is providing a platform for those developers who want to monetize their work, Mohoni said. “Companies pay for accessing the code, and they enjoy better software created by motivated developers who are now compensated for their work. Because our solution makes sure that the code remains open source, developers can continue accepting contributions so the community enjoys better code than ever before,” he explained.

Photo: xs:code

What’s more, project owners can even distribute to community contributors funds earned from subscriptions, if they wish to do so, giving them a way to pay contributors, who help make the project better.

The way it generally works is that the open-source developers create a dual license model. One has the raw open-source code, and one is the commercial version, which could have additional functionality or support that customers would be willing to pay for via a subscription.

The developers create a private repository on GitHub, and connect to xs:code, where they can share a link to the paid version. Users hit the paywall and can subscribe. Xs:code collects the money and distributes it in whichever way the developers have indicated. The company takes 25% as a commission for maintaining the platform and collecting the revenue.

The platform is available for the first time starting today in beta. You can sign up for free. Xs:code has raised $500,000 in pre-seed money to date.

WordPress.com sites can now accept subscriptions with new ‘Recurring Payments’ feature

By Sarah Perez

The subscription model is today sustaining a number of businesses, including artists, creators, news publishers, game developers, entertainment providers and more. Now, top publishing platform WordPress.com is making it easier for any creator or web publisher to add a subscription feature to their own website, so they can begin to generate repeat contributions from their supporters, readers, fans or customers.

The feature is available to any of the millions of WordPress .com sites on a paid plan, as well as the millions of self-hosted WordPress sites using Jetpack, the company says. It’s also fairly flexible in nature.

Once enabled, WordPress.com website owners could charge for weekly newsletters, accept monthly donations, sell yearly access to exclusive content or charge for anything else where they want to be able to bill their supporters on a set schedule.

WordPress.com partnered with internet payment processor Stripe on the new feature, which means WordPress.com blog publishers will also need to set up a Stripe account of their own before using Recurring Payments. Then, they’ll head to the “Earn” page on WordPress.com and click on “Connect Stripe to Get Started” to be walked through the setup process.

Users are able to create as many different payment plans as they like — including those that support different currencies, payment frequencies and names — which enables them to offer different tiers or types of subscriptions to their customers, readers or fans.

They’ll also be able to put a Recurring Payments button on their website.

Subscribers, meanwhile, can cancel their subscriptions at any time from their WordPress.com account.

Being able to quickly and easily add subscriptions to any website could convince some creators to move their subscription plans off larger platforms, like Patreon, for example, in order to save on fees and revenue share. However, they would miss out on the other platform resources by doing so. Instead, many may choose to simply add WordPress.com as another channel where they collect subscription revenue.

The feature isn’t necessarily only for creators — it also could be put to use by clubs and organizations that have to collect their own recurring membership fees and dues or anyone else who needs to be able to collect money easily on a regular basis. WordPress.com notes that some people even collect rent through recurring payments, for example.

The launch could have a major impact on the prevalence of subscriptions across the web, given the size of WordPress.com’s footprint. The company today touts that more than 409 million people view 20 billion pages on its platform every month, and publishers produce around 70 million new posts per month.

Optimizing customer retention will be a priority in 2020

By Walter Thompson
Guy Marion Contributor
Guy Marion is CEO/co-founder of Brightback, the first automated customer retention software for subscription businesses.

We’ve seen our fair share of shocking headlines recently: tenuous IPOs, the “retailpocalypse” and a fickle market have reset the way we size up subscription businesses. Recurring revenue models have their pitfalls, and 2019 has certainly taught the industry a few lessons.

Next year, retention is set to be a top priority for companies looking to keep customers engaged and drive growth. From niche products to personalization, how companies deliver on and measure the success of their customer experience will separate successful subscription businesses from the next unflattering news story.

These seven trends will emerge to shape the way companies delight and retain customers in 2020.

1. To meet consumer demand, more mainstream brands will experiment with subscriptions

We’ve all seen articles detailing the financial fall of many brick-and-mortar stores. The retail crunch predicted years ago is coming to fruition as we’ve watched household names like Sears, Toys R Us and Barney’s consider bankruptcy or go up for sale.

Consumers aren’t letting up in their preference for convenience; they want easier ways to buy, and that means stores must develop better online experiences and offer subscription options or risk losing revenue. We’ll see big brands like Nike and Ikea continue to experiment and expand innovative subscription offerings.

For struggling brick-and-mortar businesses, subscription services could very well be a lifeline to retain a dwindling customer base. The shifting retail industry presents an opportunity for traditional companies to fully embrace recurring revenue models next year — smart organizations will do so.

2. The golden age of niche subscriptions is gone, so fatigue will settle in

We’ve experienced a rapid period of subscription adoption, with more options launching everyday. And that’s led us to a point of max fragmentation where companies and consumers alike are subscribed to so many niche products and services, they can no longer manage or afford new offerings.

Because the proliferation of subscriptions are so vast, specialized products and services will need to do prove their worth or risk being replaced. B2B (project management, martech, ecommerce) and B2C (clothing, streaming, meal delivery) companies alike must offer far better experiences in 2020 than in years past. For B2B organizations, products must be integrated with larger systems to justify their existence. One-off point solutions that silo information and create broken customer experiences will no longer be accepted. And for B2C companies, pricing will have to be spot on as more competition vies for the budgets of consumers who haven’t budgeted for increased spending.

Ultimately, not every company will be able to compete in the age of subscription fatigue, so we’ll see more consolidation, partnerships and mergers occur in the coming year.

3. Customer retention will become the new frontier for marketers

It’s impossible to ignore the IPO press around WeWork, Blue Apron, Uber, Peloton and others. If 2020’s tech and consumer unicorns have poor unit economics and aren’t turning a profit, they need to prepare to be the next ugly headline. Marketers can be a force for change by focusing on the long-term retention of the customers they acquire. And I believe they’ll do so happily. Why?

NBA TV goes over-the-top to offer live games and original programming to cord cutters

By Sarah Perez

Cord-cutting basketball fans now have a new option for their non-stop hoops coverage. NBA TV is officially launching a direct-to-consumer subscription service today, making it the first linear TV sports league network to go over the top. The service, which will be available both on the web at NBA.com and through the NBA app, will include more than 100 exclusive, out-of-market live games, original programming and on-demand video for $6.99 per month.

You can also pay the annual price of $59.99 for a small discount.

The launch won’t impact customers with pay-TV subscriptions, as they’ll still be able to watch NBA TV by authenticating with their TV provider.

NBA Digital, which is managed jointly by the NBA and Turner Sports, recently announced a new franchise called “Center Court” where it will experiment with viewing enhancements, including new camera angles, live on-screen group chats with celeb influencers, in-depth analytics and statistical graphics, and more.

These games (a list is here) will also be featured on NBA TV through the main Center Court broadcast as well as on the web and mobile, where fans can find the enhanced “frontcourt” and “backcourt” streams. The “frontcourt” streams will incorporate the alternative audio options with rotating groups of NBA influencers, while the “backcourt” streams will feature the Second Spectrum technology, including the statistical overlays.

Center Court coverage will be available through the 2019-2020 season.

In addition to the enhanced games, NBA TV promises more than 100 nationally televised out-of-market games, plus other live games from the WNBA, NBA G League and NBA Summer League. The service also has original programming that includes studio shows and reporting, magazine-style shows like “Beyond the Point,” talent franchises like “Shaqtin’ a Fool,” a pre-game show, “The Warm Up” and nightly shows like “NBA Crunchtime” and “NBA Game Time.”

New shows that focus on social conversations, legends and current players include “The List,” “#Handles,” “Say What,” “High Tops” and “Basketball Stories.” And the service includes 24/7 access to classic games, the NBA Finals from 2000-2019 and other archival content.

NBA TV subscribers also will be able to buy an NBA League Pass, the premium subscription to all NBA games, from the same NBA app and website where they can buy or add on NBA TV, starting today.

Once subscribed, NBA TV can be watched via the web, mobile or through connected TV devices and game consoles.

“Innovation has always been at the core of our NBA Digital partnership and the launch of this direct to consumer product, paired with new content initiatives, will provide NBA fans even greater opportunities to engage with NBA TV and our collective portfolio of brands,” said Tina Shah, executive vice president and general manager, Turner Sports, in a statement. “As sports consumption continues to evolve, we will continue to develop new opportunities for fans to access and engage with premium NBA content.”

Access to live sports is one of the areas that stop fans from fully cutting the cord with traditional pay TV. But a variety of resources have cropped up over the years to make that transition easier, including those dedicated to particular sports — like the MLB’s over-the-top offering MLB.TV — or live-streamed games across social media and elsewhere, as with the NFL’s games on Amazon Prime Video. There are also entire services, like fuboTV that grew out of sports’ fans needs for a more comprehensive live sports offering.

But even with new ways to watch, blackout restrictions often keep fans tied to pay TV, perhaps using a friend’s account to log in and authenticate…or even turning to VPNs. NBA TV won’t solve this problem, either, but it can help fans view more games and NBA content.

Apple Card users can now finance iPhone purchases for 24 months, interest-free

By Sarah Perez

It’s not quite an “Apple Prime” subscription, but it’s compelling. Apple on Wednesday introduced a new program that will allow Apple Card users to finance their iPhone purchases for 24 months, without paying interest. The program aims to appeal to consumers who frequently upgrade their iPhone to the latest model, but often turn to their carrier to finance those purchases.

With the Goldman Sachs Apple Card, those iPhone users will have another option — and one without the associated interest and fees of a traditional credit card purchase, Apple says. In addition, the Apple Card offers 3% back on purchases from Apple, which further sweetens the deal.

The program helps to lay the groundwork for what some believe may eventually become a larger subscription product for Apple, or a so-called “Apple Prime” — a name that references the Amazon Prime membership program that includes a variety of perks alongside its fast, free shipping.

An Apple hardware subscription could see users instead paying for the privilege of using the latest Apple hardware, while also bundling in other services, like AppleCare, similar to its existing iPhone Upgrade Program today, which similarly offers 0% APR but can charge fees. But a true “Apple Prime” would include other Apple subscriptions under the same roof, like iCloud, Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple News+ and/or Apple Arcade, in some sort of bundle deal. 

Already, Apple has begun to experiment with subscription bundles. This week, for example, it announced a bundle for students that includes Apple Music and Apple TV+ for the same price as a student Apple Music subscription alone ($5/mo). And in a sense, Apple is already bundling its new Apple TV+ streaming service with its hardware, as it’s giving the service away for free with a new device purchase in its first year.

Apple has been steadily moving toward a more robust iPhone subscription program for some time.

In recent years, it has promoted iPhone trade-ins as something of a no-brainer for bringing down the cost of a new iPhone purchase. At the company’s iPhone 11 event in September, for example, Apple put up a slide that emphasized the new iPhone 11’s low price, when viewed under this model. Instead of a starting price of $699, the iPhone 11 could be as little as $399 — or $17 per month, Apple said — when you traded in your iPhone 8. The iPhone 11 Pro was $25 per month with an X trade-in, and the Pro Max would be $29 per month with an X trade-in, Apple also said.

These sorts of promotions seem to be working, as more Apple customers are turning to trade-ins than in the past.

“We…continue to see great results from our trade-in program with more than five times the iPhone trade-in volume we had a year ago,” noted Apple CFO Luca Maestri on Apple’s earnings call.

The larger idea is to encourage Apple’s customer base to viewing the iPhone not as a big, expensive one-time purchase, but as just another monthly bill you have to pay. Tack on a few extras, like a warranty and some media and entertainment options, and Apple has the meat for a real iPhone-led subscription — its very own “Apple Prime,” so to speak. And thanks to the Goldman Sachs Apple Card, it has a way to incentive users to buy from Apple directly.

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