Membership Models! They're About To Explode
First of all, you should be following Jay Rosen on Twitter and paying attention to everything he does. Rosen is if not the leading thinker on membership and independent media funding models, then damn near close. His latest project, The Membership Puzzle Project, is funded by the Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund, and First Look Media.. and it is a BIG deal.
If you haven't noticed, advertising models don't work. Even if your product designers are the smartest people in the world, and even if an ad is almost impossible to differentiate from editorial content, readers are savvy, and they're just not that interested in being sold to all the time. Buzzfeed is cutting 8 percent of its US staff, which is a direct result of native advertising dropping. Once thought of as the innovator in corporate advertising, even Buzzfeed can't shake the fact that selling shit all the time to cover editorial expenses just doesn't work as well as everyone wants it to. Vice, too, is cutting staff. Same problems there. But that's not what we're here to talk about. We're here to talk about what's about to happen next:
The Pivot To Membership.
While many outlets are cutting staff, some others are exploding in terms of their financial capacity. I almost blacked out when I read that the Guardian has grown by no fewer than 282,000 members since January 2016. WHAT? The for-profit company is now bringing in more revenue in membership than in ad dollars. (Talk about a pivot that actually works.)
At Bitch, we've had a membership model in play since 2009. Our overall revenue is much smaller on a monthly basis than what you see at The Guardian, but so is our audience. The monthly giving model, a choice that readers can make to support a media organization holistically rather than simply paying for the media itself, is really a values-based approach. If you believe in what we believe in, and you'd like to see the world change in the same ways that we would, then we ask you to join the B-Hive.
Our pivot happened midway through 2016, and it's been a game-changer for us. You can read more about how we approached the pivot in The Case for Bitch, authored specifically to help donors understand how their up-front support would make a membership program truly viable at Bitch, and by extension, secure a more stable financial future for our outlet.
Back to Jay Rosen though, because he's gone beyond the work of just one organization. His focus on The Membership Puzzle project offers all kinds of insights for organizations looking to make better financial decisions, those that allow editorial teams to publish content based on the importance of the story rather than the number of clicks it'll drive. I urge you to explore it, and to read Rosen's writeup about major takeaways.