Checking in on Media Membership Programs: How Are They Doing?

News outlets in recent years have put a lot of weight into membership programs, with an eye toward sustainability. Some are seeing major successes, while others are ready to tweak the model. Read on for a list of highlights.

In recent years, media outlets looking for a way out of the treadmill of costly print models and the complications of digital advertising have increasingly turned to membership as an alternative model.

So how are they doing, anyway? Here’s a quick check-in on some of the most notable news outlets that have moved to this model:

The Guardian. The prominent U.K.-based legacy newspaper, perhaps the largest outlet that has moved to a membership model in recent years, recently announced that it had topped 300,000 paying supporters in the U.S., a suml that accounts for more than a third of its total revenue in the American market. Globally, the company, which includes an appeal on every article, has nailed down more than 800,000 supporters, more than half of which are making recurring payments to the news outlet. The organization offers four tiers of membership to readers, including a free tier that offers access to updates on its membership offerings.

Slate. Since 2014, the web outlet has become a major pusher of the membership model through its Slate Plus program, which has helped it drive meaningful recurring revenue. Last year, Digiday revealed that the company was generating more than $1.3 million in annual revenue from memberships, with its podcasts proving a driving element of that success. And recently, the website redesigned, with Editor-in-Chief Julia Turner noting that the redesign was informed by its focus on driving new memberships. “And so the new Slate is full of features designed to delight our most engaged users, including a home page with clearer hierarchy that we hope will make an even more compelling and useful oasis on your internet rounds,” Turner wrote.

Texas Tribune. Perhaps the news outlet with a structure closest to a traditional association, the nonprofit organization, which offers four membership tiers and a “Giving Circle” for higher-value donations, has been shifting its approach to more consumer memberships—and is using newsroom resources to help sweeten the benefits of those memberships. “What got us our first eight years of success is not what’s going to lead to the next eight,” Tribune Membership and Marketing Manager Rebecca Quarls recently told Digiday.

Christian Science Monitor. One of the most dramatic news site revamps in recent years has been that of this century-old newspaper, an official product of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Last year, the publication boldly reshaped itself into a daily paid newsletter, with a goal of 10,000 subscribers in its first year. The crazy part? It’s almost there. According to The Lenfest Institute’s Solution Set newsletter, the outlet has 8,500 subscribers to the $11 monthly or $110 yearly newsletter, putting it within shouting distance of its goal, which it hopes to hit by the end of March.

New York magazine. Of course, membership models aren’t always immune to a few tweaks. New York’s membership program New York By New York, which put a strong emphasis on retail and a specialized newsletter, is getting pushed more strongly in the direction of events, reports Digiday. The program was profitable, says the outlet, but remained fairly small in size. The news outlet is increasingly bundling the program with other offerings, such as a subscription to the magazine.

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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