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The Aptitude Blog

Revealing the hidden costs of sleeping subscribers

October 11, 2023
Posted by Jay Tocco

Insights from cutting-edge research 

In the world of subscription-based services, a significant portion of your revenue might come from subscribers who are inactive, often referred to as “sleeping subscribers.” Dealing with sleeping subscribers can be challenging. They may make up a substantial part of your subscriber base, and attempting to re-engage them can risk cancellations and revenue loss. 

However, relying on revenue from subscribers who are unaware or uninterested in your product is not a sustainable strategy. Ignoring sleepers may preserve short-term revenue but comes at a significant long-term cost. Understanding customer behavior and strategies for retaining subscribers is essential in the ever-evolving world of subscription-based services. Recent research conducted by Toolkits has revealed significant findings around the challenges of sleeping subscribers. 

Cracking the mystery of sleeping subscribers 

Sleeping subscribers, a hidden threat within subscription management, can quietly but significantly reduce your revenue. Research conducted by esteemed economists from Stanford and Texas A&M University has highlighted a glaring issue: during months requiring subscribers to take specific renewal actions, a surprising 8% choose to discontinue their subscriptions. This sharply contrasts with the typical 2% cancellation rate in other months. 

One noteworthy discovery was the significant drop of renewal rates during months when subscribers had to update their payment cards, often due to card expiration, loss, or theft. During these critical periods, subscribers were four times more likely to cancel their subscriptions than other months. This highlights the vulnerability of subscription services during these high-stakes moments.

The revenue wake-up call: a warning for publishers 

The study also attempted to measure the revenue generated from inattentive subscribers. Brace yourself for this: inattention increased revenues ranging from 14% to more than 200%, depending on the product. 

Engaged subscribers who remained actively involved with their subscriptions had an average subscription duration of 13.4 months. In contrast, inattentive subscribers remained active for an astonishing 33.7 months (about 3 years), which can be assumed to be a significant revenue factor for subscription-based services. 

The research findings should serve as a warning for publishers in the subscription industry. Relying on revenue from subscribers who have become disengaged can be a risky strategy for building resilient, long-lasting subscription businesses. 

Maximizing sleeping subscriber value: Tips for engagement and retention

  • Sleeping subscribers are not all disengaged users – some are actively choosing to continue subscribing for ease of service access. 
  • Use subscriber data to understand the needs of consumers in terms of both content consumption and service preferences: having analytics from both is the only way to stabilize your sleeping subscriber revenue. 
  • Spend time focusing on truly disengaged, sleeping user groups to drive engagement between payments. 
  • Offer flexibility in the management of subscriptions by allowing subscribers to pause or cancel fluidly. The ease in which they can manage their subscription will have a direct impact on sentiment for returning later.

“We are seeing some interesting developments in the way our clients are tackling sleeping subscribers across our base, with many taking the traditional view of waking to drive retention, whilst others explore different tactics.


One of our leading streaming clients recently shared that their key customer cohort is primarily made up of users who don’t engage with content between releases of their favourite shows, but continue to pay for their subscriptions every month regardless. Typically putting your bets on a ‘volatile’ cohort of sleepers would be frowned upon in the subscriptions industry – particularly in light of this research. 


However, what’s really clever about the way this client is doing, is the consideration around the fuller demographic profile and needs of their consumers. They have used a truly customer-centric, data-led approach to their cohort analysis and discovered that this group, whilst having low sensitivity to price, have high sensitivity to spending time managing their subscriptions. This cohort is made up of affluent people who just want access quickly and easily to their favourite content as soon as it lands and are happy to pay a minimal subscription contribution throughout the year to ensure they get this. 


By effectively segmenting this group in terms of both content and service needs, our client is able to pivot their focus to cohorts with more potential to churn, putting their marketing spend in the places where it can be most impactful. It seems there is not just one shade of ‘sleeping subscribers’ – some are happy not to be woken up.” 


Charlotte Parker, Senior Customer Success Manager, Aptitude Software 

Your solution to sleeping subscribers 

At Aptitude Software, we understand the importance of addressing sleeping subscribers in today’s subscription landscape. Our open, flexible, and modular subscription management solution equips businesses with the tools to combat this silent threat. We empower organizations to streamline renewals, reduce cancellations, and enhance subscriber engagement. 

Are you curious how Aptitude Software can be your secret weapon against sleeping subscribers? Discover the depth of our expertise and our unwavering commitment to client relationships. Contact us today to unlock growth potential, enhance efficiency, and confidently navigate the subscription management landscape. Your future in subscription management just got significantly brighter. 

Rev up your profitability: Payment optimization tips & tactics for recurring revenues 

Don’t let sleeping subscribers and payment breakage hinder your recurring revenues. Join us for our virtual series, SubSessions, and turbocharge your profitability with expert insights and battle-tested tactics. If you’re eager to combat losses head-on, this interactive session is tailored for you. Expect to uncover industry insights, real-life use cases, and tried-and-tested techniques that can revolutionize your payment optimization strategy. Register now and gain access to invaluable industry data insights, real-world use case success stories, actionable tips and tactics, and easy-to-implement methods to stay ahead of sleeping subscribers. 

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This blog post was written by:

Jay Tocco
Content Manager
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