Membership

Lessons from Journalism's Hunt For New Revenue Models

By / Jan 22, 2013 (John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock)

The paywall may be seen as the savior for the news industry, but news startups worldwide are trying all sorts of new revenue models. Could they work for your association?

Associations looking for revenue-raising innovations may find some inspiration from reading the news.

For years, news outlets big and small have struggled to find the right model for their businesses, with many hitching their wagons to advertising and others trying to make paywalls work.

(A few notable names, such as The New York Times and Andrew Sullivan, have gone down this road, with varying degrees of success.)

But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see some interesting trends happening. Harvard University’s Nieman Lab recently points out a study, “Chasing Sustainability on the Net,” [PDF] which shows experimentation happening in journalism startups around the world. These revenue models offer some interesting insights that could be taken back to associations, including:

Everything we do outside of politics we charge for. We sell a license to use our software. It’s an API, so as the clients make more calls, the price goes up.

A membership model: A few months ago, the American politics site Talking Points Memo launched TPMPrime, a $50-per-year membership-based site that offers exclusive content, a members-only forum, and an inside line to the publication’s writers. According to SuBMoJour, other sites around the world are trying this model, including Slovakia’s Piano Media, the Japanese nonprofit OurPlanet-TV, and the popular American tech site Ars Technica, which, like TPMPrime, offers a $50-per-year membership for access to exclusive content. Associations know a thing or two about membership already, but is there room to gain some insight from these approaches?

Data/analytics sales: One revenue model worth keeping an eye on for big-data heads? Tweetminster, a British site that automatically curates important political voices in the country through Twitter. How does it make money? Well, it sells useful analytics based on the data it curates. “Everything we do outside of politics we charge for. We sell a license to use our software. It’s an API, so as the clients make more calls, the price goes up,” explains Alberto Nardelli, the company’s CEO. But that approach doesn’t translate to the content itself. “We don’t charge for politics because we are passionate about the political space and helping people access information, and experimenting within the political space,” he explains.

Client-based work: Other companies offer professional services to subscribers, focusing less on the end-user experience and more on creating a product that proves useful to their clients. The Irish site Storyful, a wire service built around social media, sells its news-gathering and verification services to a number of large news organizations around the world, including The New York Times and The Economist. The Italian site Effecinque follows a similar model, selling unique storytelling models to its clients.

As the journalism field matures online, it’s likely we’ll start seeing larger sites use similar approaches. What content or services could you offer members that would diversify your revenue model?

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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