2018 trends: A primer on what’s happened with membership models and where they are headed


Editor’s note: As we wind down 2018, the Local Media Association is looking at some of the biggest trends of the year and sharing much of what is working in that space. This week, we take a look at membership.

2018 trend: Membership models

One of the more exciting consumer revenue opportunities that has bubbled up for publishers this year is membership.

The basic idea of membership is that consumers who see value in a journalism brand would be willing to donate to support the brand and the journalism they create. As thanks for the donation, organizations are providing a variety of rewards like access to events and journalists and products like bags and mugs.

One of the organizations trying to crack the code on what’s working in membership is Membership Puzzle, a unique research project running through May 2020 seeking membership solutions that go beyond just taking money from consumers. Part of their core mission: “There has to be a social contract between journalists and members. Working out what that contract should say is the core challenge of the Membership Puzzle Project.”

This story from Membership Puzzle is a great resource for an understanding what’s happening in membership and what you can learn about the many tests.

Speaking of great reads on membership, this story from earlier this year by Nieman Lab looks at sustainable membership models and goes deep on several interesting ones.

We’ll spend the rest of this article focusing on three of the more interesting and well-known models in membership:

ATLANTIC

Their membership model called Masthead is focused on providing exclusive content and offering reading experiences like an ad-free site.

Let’s take a look at what is offered in their exclusive content bucket:

• Ability to talk with writers and newsmakers across their network

• Summaries offered each week of major events happening throughout the world

• Recaps of the Atlantic’s reporting and writing

• Explanation of the reporting and editing process at The Atlantic

• Providing answers to reader questions from members

In addition members get the following: ad-free browsing and listening, a bunch of freebies like (digital and print subscriptions and gift subscriptions) and participation in member conversations.

The exclusive content focus and the ad-free experience are the most unique parts of the program. The offer is $120 a year.

Interesting reads about The Atlantic’s membership model

Atlantic launches 100-year membership program

One month in Atlantic membership program attracts thousands

The Atlantic launches a paid membership program for its diehards called The Masthead

SPIRITED MEDIA

Jim Brady’s company with sites now in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Denver, went live with a membership program in 2018.

Brady explained the membership model here in this post.

This is the breakdown of what the models look like for the Denverite:

• Supporter – Contribute between $35 and $99 for a year and you get:

Members-only coffee and happy hour events

Monthly member report

• Insider – Contributions between $100 and $499, and you get:

 3:03 emails with early access to popular Denverite features

Early access to limited-edition [Denverite] collaborations with local talent


Exclusive event discounts

• VIP – $500+ contributions get you everything above plus:

Two free tickets to their Denverite Birthday Party

Interesting reading about Spirited Media’s membership model

Billy Penn, Denverite, and The Incline are all going after members. Can they become predominantly reader-supported?

Spirited Media taking NPR-inspired approach with membership

VOICE OF SAN DIEGO

This is one of the longest-standing membership models in the industry. They offer an interesting mix of reports, access and events.

In fact, Voice of San Diego launched the News Revenue Hub back in 2017 and that organization has been helping countless others launch their own membership programs.

This is a general breakdown on how their model works:

• $35-$99 a year: You get a member-only report produced by the editor in chief, four times a year and free or discounted tickets to some of their events.

• $100-$499 a year: Get to add a plus-one at an exclusive event.

• $500-$999 a year: Tickets to their Politifest event plus being able to plug your favorite business or cause through one of their member-only reports.

• $1,000 a year: Invitations to exclusive donor recognition events

Interesting reading about Voice of San Diego’s membership model

Membership program case study: Voice of San Diego’s ‘Raise your voice’

A club that will have me as a member, Voice of San Diego and Minn Post are building out their membership models

Membership increases revenue for community nonprofit Voice of San Diego

OTHER INTERESTING MODELS

These news organizations have been cited numerous times for their membership approaches.

Click in to read about what they offer: Honolulu Civil BeatInsideClimate NewsThe LensNJ Spotlight, and PolitiFact