For media organizations, and particularly those that rely on subscriptions, some form of free trial is usually par for the course when it comes to the mobile app.

That’s no surprise. It’s a huge gamble to expect any casual browser - who can get news and entertainment from a variety of sources - to commit to a spend without having first given them a chance to check the merchandise.

Some attempt it. The Times (UK) have a watertight paywall that demands sign-up before any content is consumed. They do a decent job of providing an insight into what can be expected, showing high-profile writers and detailing additional perks of membership - as shown below. But it’s no surprise that even then, opt-in rates are pretty low.

Mobile In Media - The Art Of The Free Trial - The Times Screens

Managing The Trial

But if, like most, you are in the free trial game, you have a number of questions to answer. Perhaps the most obvious is ‘how leaky do I make my paywall’, or in other words - how much content should I allow users to access before the gate closes?

It’s important to get that balance right. Free access to content is vital for discovery (usually via social media) and early-life nurture, but too much free content of course leads to a situation in which users are less likely to pay. Why would they, when most of the content they want to consume is free?

Different organizations have taken different approaches to this challenge. The New York Times (shown below) offers 10 free articles a month. The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, provides a free trial for a period of time (14 days). But in both cases the decision needs to be taken - how many articles, or how long a period of time?

Of course the best way to get that right is via A/B testing. It’s possible to create alternative experiences and serve them at random to users, and identify which approach works most effectively. That’s certainly a smarter way to go about your business than guessing and hoping.

Mobile In Media - The Art Of The Free Trial

No matter what approach is ultimately taken, keep feedback clear and make purchasing as easy as possible. In the New York Times example above it is always clear to the reader where they stand, and at every stage the opportunity to subscribe is right there. That's a good use of in-app messages to provide native mobile messaging that feels right to the user and helps drive subscription. Ideally we would add to this with additional targeted in-app messages selling future value (appearing at appropriate moments of course!)

When it comes to purchasing, the New York Times also does a great job of making purchase as frictionless as possible, with the free trial accessed via the app store and reverting to paid access automatically. Yes, there’s a loss of revenue associated with processing payments via an app store, but in our experience that is more than offset every time by the convenience that doing things in a ‘native mobile’ way - with a single click. The alternative - form completions and adding payment details - hardly bears thinking about! It certainly isn't what today's mobile users expect.