How Subtext creates 1-to-1 relationships between reporters, audiences


Many media companies are strongly focused on driving subscription programs forward. But how many of those programs include texting? 

More might in the future with the launch of Subtext, a service that gives reporters opportunities to send text messages to subscribers, and subscribers the ability to ask questions back. Media companies can choose to set their own price points for the service.

We asked David Cohn, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Subtext, to describe the service and how it works.

Can you give us a high-level overview on how Subtext works?

Subtext lets reporters send text messages to subscribers (one-to-many) like an email newsletter. Subscribers can respond (one-to-one) and our backend tools make it all manageable. The campaigns can be free for subscribers or part of a stand-alone subscription product, earning the host revenue. They can also be put behind a paywall to retain existing subscribers. It all depends on what your goals are: engagement, revenue or retention.

How did you determine this technology and experience were needed?

As we began to explore the technology we quickly realized it’s a great opportunity where everyone wins. From the reader’s perspective, they’re getting direct information from a trusted source on a topic they care about. What makes it special is that it’s using the same medium they use to communicate with their friends, family, etc. They don’t have to worry about trolls or social media baggage, etc. They can text back to the reporter the same way they might ask their smart friend a question. 

For the reporters, they don’t have to worry about performing on social media for clicks or retweets. They can focus on the audience and serving them. If they’re doing a stand-alone subscription product, it monetizes right away and is far more valuable in terms of money and earnest engagement than say, Twitter.

How are you finding experts to talk with your audience, and can you give us an example of an expert?

Anyone can apply to become a host. So far it’s really been word-of-mouth and us reaching out to people. Most people get the concept right away and immediately see the upsides. 

We have experts on all kinds of topics.

What sort of reach has Subtext had? Can you share any numbers with us?

We’ve had over 100 hosts. Many of these hosts created paid-only campaigns and are generating serious revenue for themselves or their organization. We don’t give out specifics, but we recently calculated the potential ad-revenue generated over the course of 2019 by a host via Twitter who has 35k followers. We were very generous in calculating their potential Twitter-related revenue. Not only would we argue that the quality of their engagement is better on Subtext, but they’re generating 50x more revenue on Subtext. We’d also argue that Subtext is less of a time-suck than Twitter, because you can focus on the people that matter — your audience.

What’s next with Subtext?

We have lots in the pipeline. We’ve recently added analytics, VCards support, a few custom fields, and more. As we bring on more and more hosts, we are constantly taking feedback on how we can support their efforts to grow and engage their audience.

We’re excited to work with all kinds of clients, too. Some are local nonprofits or small “hyperlocal” newsrooms. Others are business niche reporters, still others are major metro or even national papers. We’re bringing on our first TV anchors soon and more. With each new host, we are learning more and more about this exciting new medium.