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Innovation in the reader revenue: how to launch a successful membership model

Community building as a way to enhance media sustainability

Media organizations turned to their audiences for support in order to survive the COVID-19 crisis. The launch of reader revenue models was a defining trend for media in 2020. But what further innovation should we expect from membership and subscription models? 

The sixth session of #MediaRevolution conference looked into successful reader revenue models and ways on how to engage readers’ support during these challenging times for the media world.

The Fix gathered the key points from the evening’s discussions:

Sevgil Musaieva, editor-in-chief at Ukrayinska Pravda. “The reader revenue model for UP“:

  • Ukrayinska Pravda, or UP, is a leading online publication in Ukraine with more than 10 million monthly users and over 1.6 million social media followers.
  • UP‘s pre-membership business model was based on revenue from ads, special projects (native ads), donor support and, most of all (45%), on direct sales of banner ads. 
  • UP got lucky in timing. Looking to build on its close relationships with its audience, it started preparing a membership launch before COVID hit. As a result, the sudden decrease in advertising revenues was less painful than it would otherwise have been.
  • UP chose membership over subscriptions because free access to information is part of its mission. Crowdfunding, in turn, was not enough of a basis for long-term community-building.
  • UP developed a unique membership model with different tiers: a basic one for supporters, one that provides tangible benefits from over 50 business partners, and a top-tier “editor’s club” for people who want to be more engaged with UP and social initiatives.
  • The implementation of the membership model has only started after the company has developed payment and community strategies based on a large audience survey and a thorough market analysis with an in-depth research of Western experiences.
  • According to UP survey prior to the membership launch, 32% of readers were ready to support the media. 6% of respondents wanted to pay on a regular basis.
  • In just over half a year, membership revenues grew to more than 10% of the organisation’s budget.

More from The Fix: Top Ukrainian media builds travel, payments industry solutions into unique membership model

Irina Ghelbur, Managing Director for Interact Media. “Creative solutions for community benefits”:

  • Agora is an innovative news organisation in Moldova. It went through a diversity of revenue models, such as advertising, video sponsorship, interactive formats, social media promotion and more.
  • However, sales revenues and grants were not enough to secure financial sustainability. The solution was to find support in users.
  • Agora broke down its membership model launch into several steps:
    – search for institutional support from partners;
    – creating a reliable project team;
    – analysing the market and collecting audience data;
    – designing the membership structure and technology development;
    – launch the membership and communication strategy (launching events, promotion campaigns on social media, banner ads).
  • Audience surveys showed that 61% of readers were ready to financially support Agora through membership. 
  • The membership packages offer free access to the media’s mobile app and closed chat with the newsroom, exclusive content, partner products without extra ads and financial reporting.
  • Agora organizes multiple promo campaigns to push their community efforts, including promotion of high quality editorial products, goods and services of the partner businesses and their Black Friday discounts etc. 
  • During the first active membership campaign, Agora team realized that the success of the membership model largely depends on the size of the marketing budget, tech capacity, and communication strategies. The lack of these elements can negatively impact community growth.
  • Despite all the perks of membership and community building being a raising trend, many readers continue to be skeptical. So it is important to experiment with the model all the time.

More from The Fix: Are free subscription trials more effective than paid ones?

Open discussion – “Membership: Where do we go from here”: 

Ariel Zirulnick, head of Membership in News Fund

  • Develop capabilities to listen to your audience and find ways to reflect their opinions on the published content. It can highly increase the amount of constructive feedback and reader’ engagement.
  • Media organizations need better membership management technology and the capacity to make investments into the creation of membership projects.
  • Encourage your members to participate in ambassador campaigns and bring new members on board. This can help widen your community. 
  • In times of emergency or crisis, audiences always turn to media for information. If news organisations do not learn the needs of their readers during this period, they could lose a lot of these subscribers after the crisis.

Irina Ghelbur:

  • The investment in technology development is a big part of membership projects. Agora couldn’t manage to build a high quality membership system without the support from donors and grant programs.
  • Don’t expect users to participate in membership projects during mass emergencies. Your users struggle as much as you do. It’s better to wait until all the crises come to an end and ask for your audience’s support.

Sevgil Musaieva: 
Create a sustainable project management team and develop marketing strategy to support communication with readers and promote the platform widely.

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

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