News Leadership 3.0

August 28, 2009

Rather than a pay wall, consider membership options

In an ASNE chat, Steve Outing describes four levels of paid membership that news organizations might adopt

Steve Outing is doing a lot of good thinking about revenue for news organizations. In an online chat this week, he offered an interesting possible menu of four membership options. (Like Steve, I think some sort of membership or services option will work better than a pay wall, which is fraught with potential pitfalls.

“I prefer the Membership model over forced-payment or forced-subscription models for individual news sites,” Outing said. “Voluntary memberships allow you to keep all or most of your content free, so you benefit from Googlejuice; they won’t hurt your ad revenues (in fact, they create an additional “elite” audience to market to for advertisers willing to do special offers); and won’t reduce your traffic.”

Here is a summary of Outing’s options.
1. “News junkie” membership, perhaps $5 per month. Members get access to archives, invitations to chats with journalists, free or discounted tickets, free iPhone app.

2. Niche membership. Perhaps for sports fans or food enthusiasts, for example. They get extra features.

3. Premium membership, perhaps $10-15 per month. This builds on the “news junkie” membership with coupons and other special deals with advertisers, such as a two-for-one dinner at a different (advertising) restaurant each month.

4. Group or network membership. Members get access to special content from a consortium of news organizations—NY Times, Wash Post and USA Today, for example nationally, or in a local community, television, radio newspapers and magazines might pool special features.

Outing noted that this many options might end up confusing people. What do you think? Would any or all of these work for your news organization? Or are you offering memberships? Please tell us about it.

(Read the full transcript of the chat, sponsored by ASNE. It also featured Steve Buttry, Charlotte-Anne Lucas, Mark Briggs and Dan Conover in a very interesting conversation about business models for news.)


Michele: Thanks for highlighting the membership options, which I don’t think have gotten enough attention by the newspaper industry. I encourage your readers to view the full transcript of the ASNE CoverItLive chat, since my chat description of option #3—which I believe has the most promise—has more to it than 2-for-1 dinner offers. My vision would be that the commercial offers that come as part of a premium membership would be so attractive that they’d attract enough those who are not serious news enthusiasts. Just as classified ads for so many years supported the news operation even though they had not true connection to it, the commercial offers within a strong premium newspaper membership could serve the same purpose. And I’m bullish on the idea of using the mobile phone as a convenient “membership card” for people to show to get their special deals.

I’m encouraged to see that UK’s The Guardian is starting to develop its membership program. And I hope the NY Times, which is pondering the membership model as well as metered paywalls and other solutions, will lead the way and get more newspapers to experiment with memberships.

To the question of Is it too confusing to offer multiple memberships?, there’s also the option of a single customizable membership where the price goes up depending on what special options you wish to add. E.g., pay an additional $5/month for your membership, but that gets you a 5% discount when you shop at Whole Foods (though a partnership with the local stores). Lots of possibilities, but we need to get creative if memberships are to amount to a significant revenues stream to support a news operation.

Typo alert: “...they’d attract enough those…” in my previous comment should be “...they’d attract EVEN those…”

Thanks for your comments, Steve. I agree with you that membership appears more promising than pay wall. That seems to be what the Pittsburgh newspaper is now trying:

Page 1 of 1 pages

Commenting is not available in this section entry.


Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

Support is provided by:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute


@michelemclellan on Twitter

Recent Entries





Tag Cloud