The beginning of something

It’s fun to start new projects. It’s even more fun to start a project in a field you’re highly passionate about. And it’s even more fun to make something that will serve friends you have made in that field, and make their businesses run smoother and more pain-free.

Subsail is my new thing.

Put simply, it’s a tool for indie publishers to manage their subscribers and subscriptions. But really, it’s a whole lot more than that.

Mockup for the future home page (June 2016).

I started on Subsail’s idea at the end of February. I had been freelancing for four months and was ready to get into development again after working on marketing sites and design work. I am most happy when I’m working on something with the scope and the possibility to grow; something that one-off freelance gigs just can’t offer.

I love magazines. I made one of the go-to magazine websites. I read magazines all the time. My wife complains that I have too many, and my children roll their eyes when they have to come with me to collect new issues from the post office.

By day, I’m a web designer and developer. Matching my job with my hobby is something that just makes sense. Subsail is the next project that has evolved from this “partnership” of passions.

Magazine subscribers are important readers. These are people who have paid more than they need (i.e. for a single magazine), and who have made a commitment to receive and read X number of future issues. For smaller publishers, these readers give an influx of cash — something akin to regular small crowdfunding boosts — that can be a great help to realise plans for expansion or even to meet the costs for an upcoming issue.

From my research, the most common way that indie publishers manage and oversee subscribers is with a spreadsheet. It’s normal to sell a subscription online and copy-paste data to a spreadsheet, then struggle with formatting and structuring the document to ensure sure that Subscriber A gets issues 4, 5 and 6, and Subscriber B gets 5, 6 and 7. Imagine if you have around 700 subscribers (as one of Subsail’s early connections has); managing subscribers quickly turns into a pain and a hassle. Yet, a lot of money is tied up with them and publishers have to deliver on their promise for these “pre-paid” issues.

Subsail will fix all this. It automatically pulls in subscription orders from a magazine’s online shop (PayPal and Shopify will be supported at launch) and generates subscriptions in a publisher’s Subsail account within seconds. Subscribers are listed in one place, no matter where their subscriptions have been sold. Publishers can drill down into segments of subscribers (say, subscribers who bought issue 4 and live in Germany) and can easily sync these segments to MailChimp so newsletter campaigns can be sent to certain groups. Subsail offers a young email system itself, too, which allows publishers to schedule one-off emails based around subscription expiry, helping to reduce churn and improve renewals. On the subscriber side, they all get their own “account”, which they can log into (password-free) and see with a glance which issues they are owed and when they are due (and change their address themselves, if need be).

The future is bright

I’ve already built most of Subsail’s next move post-launch; a platform to make it easier for publishers to sell subscriptions to readers, by offering three types: “single” subscriptions (a one-off, x-issue subscription), “recurring” subscriptions (an x-issue subscription that renews) and unique “rolling” subscriptions, which charge subscribers as each issue is released (I believe this is the future of magazine subscriptions).

This is only the beginning of something. But I believe that — not too far into the future — Subsail will be an important part of a publisher’s tool box, and a platform that supports the work these publishers plough into their magazines, by helping generate more and higher-quality subscribers.

Stay tuned for more writing about Subsail’s adventures in product, business and design.

Thanks for reading! 👊

— Dan


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