“Not only can membership save journalism, but will do so by helping it evolve”: Why publishers are looking beyond subscriptions

What's New in Publishing 05 May 2020 09:44

“Reader revenue has freed us from the shackles of others we can’t see or who don’t care.”

The Daily Beast’s membership product, Beast Inside, has seen nearly 100% growth in sign-ups when comparing the period of January 1 to March 15 versus March 16 to present, according to Digiday. It’s helping the publisher recoup some of the losses from the decline in programmatic advertising due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

While CRO Mia Libby did not share specific figures, she said the average order value on Beast Inside memberships is up 35%. Memberships is the second largest revenue stream for the publisher and has increased commensurate with subscriber growth, she added.

The Guardian which became profitable last year simply by asking readers to donate, has grown from 12,000 members in 2016, to more than 655,000 monthly supporters at present.

“Isn’t just a subscription by another name”

Membership can be an enduring and substantial source of revenue for publishers because it is based on a strong relationship with the readers. “In membership, there’s a different social contract or value proposition between the site and its members,” writes Emily Goligoski, Research Director, Membership Puzzle Project

“The key is focus: We need to stop being everything to everyone and start honing in on our best readers,” says Ristagno. He recommends surveying them to understand their needs and wants followed by developing a value proposition to address them. 

“It’s interesting that when we lock content, we just focus on one of these needs—the cognitive need,” said Piechota. “We charge people to access the information, for the access to knowledge. But in fact, people actually engage with the media for many other reasons.” 

At The Guardian, patrons (members paying £1,200 a year), get access to exclusive events, backstage tours, member-only newsletters. Those who pay £2500, also get to attend the morning editorial conference with Editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner. They get free event tickets and ad-hoc bespoke experiences tailored to their interests as well. 

They learnt that South Africans readers were willing to financially support a cause they identified with. Surveys conducted in the weeks before the launch helped them identify the top features prospective members would value: These were: 

200 people signed up to the Maverick Insider on launch day. Now as the publisher approaches the 10,000 milestone it is looking at new commercial opportunities like a printed product, a book division, and/or speaking engagements for its journalists.

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Rob RistagnoSterling Woods GroupEmily GoligoskiMia LibbyThe Guardian
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