HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Ken Doctor: Why The New York Times hired Kinsey Wilson
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Oct. 26, 2009, 10 a.m.

Talking Points Memo explores a membership model, but no paywall

Talking Points Memo spent the weekend asking its readers for advice on building a mobile strategy. (See these three posts.) Two of their findings are of interest to future-of-journalism types:

The Kindle remains a half-hearted medium for news, an awkward mix of book-centric tech and news organizations searching for marginal revenue. Here’s TPM top boss Josh Marshall:

There are many fewer Kindles out there than iPhones, let alone Blackberries. But even among Kindle users, demand didn’t seem too great. A lot of you said that you love it for books. But it’s just not made for rapidly changing information, our more iterative style of writing and reporting. And it’s also not great visually for anything but pure text. Another way of saying this is that it’s designed for books, which of course it is. Just speaking for myself, and as someone who’s become an avid user of my Kindle for books, I think I agree.

By contrast, “we’ve got a lot of readers who are very into their Palm Pre mobile devices,” Marshall reports, although they still lag far behind iPhone users in numbers.

TPM is exploring a membership model that aims to draw money out of its most dedicated readers without putting all its content behind a paywall. That’s a model a number of newspaper companies are coming around to as they wrestle with the need to generate revenue from readers but realize the drawbacks of putting all content under lock and key for those who won’t pay. Here’s Marshall describing the outlines of what they’re thinking:

TPM would never put up any sort of pay-wall in front of our content. It’s completely antithetical to both our editorial and our business model. But we are actively considering a membership program in which people who are really into TPM could pay a few bucks a month — say the cost of a coffee at Starbucks — for a series of extra services and tools — for instance, several times a week video-based live teleconferences with TPM reporters and editors in which you’d be able to ask follow-up questions to stories, ask about the reporting process on certain issues we’re covering, whatever. That’s just one example. But the key would be these would be things that we don’t think there’d necessarily ever be a mass audience for but which would still take a decent investment of staff time and in some cases tech-time to do. So a membership framework, with a small monthly fee, makes sense.

…we’ve discussed having access to customized versions of TPM for particular mobile devices be a benefit of becoming a member of the site. But we’re still considering whether that’s a direction we’d want to go — mainly because I think some of these mobile platforms may eventually become dominant ways to read the site, perhaps even rivaling the number of people who read TPM on the web…

Marshall also mentions as potential membership benefits mobile breaking-news alerts, customized story selection, and aggregated polling data on elections of interest. While TPM has a different heritage than traditional newspapers do, there are many news organizations running a similar set of ideas through their business-side meetings these days.

I’ve been a regular TPM reader since 2000, back when it was hosted on a subdirectory of Josh’s personal site, and the site’s tone and content mix have shifted over time as its audience has evolved from hard-core political junkies and blogophiles to a broader audience with a more casual political interest. When Marc Andreessen invested in a TPM growth strategy this summer, the future-of-journalism side of me was thrilled to see Josh get a chance to expand and evolve. But the TPM-reader side was a little worried that, in the process of reaching for a bigger audience, TPM might evolve into something a little more pageview-hungry, a little more Politico. So revenue aside, I’m heartened to see TPM thinking about new ways to satisfy its core audience. As Slate’s David Plotz put it last week, sometimes there’s more value to be drawn from a devoted core readership than from a broader but fickle one.

POSTED     Oct. 26, 2009, 10 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Ken Doctor: Why The New York Times hired Kinsey Wilson
The former chief content officer at NPR will be moving up I-95 to one of the most important digital positions at the Times.
Why Google is taking another shot at helping readers pay for news
Google Contributor is the latest tool the company has designed to help readers pay for what they read online. But its previous experiments in supporting paid content have had limited success.
In Canada, newspapers’ attempts to experiment with ebooks haven’t seen much success
A number of papers across the country started ebook programs in the early part of this decade, repurposing their archives or producing new work. They haven’t been the moneymakers some had hoped.
What to read next
718
tweets
Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
540Here’s some remarkable new data on the power of chat apps like WhatsApp for sharing news stories
At least in certain contexts, WhatsApp is a truly major traffic driver — bigger even than Facebook. Should there be a WhatsApp button on your news site?
502Controlled chaos: As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?
Old and new media types from journalism, documentary, and technology backgrounds gathered at MIT to share practices and discuss mutual concerns.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
The Times of London
NPR
Tampa Bay Times
Wired
St. Louis Beacon
Al Jazeera
Bayosphere
Global Voices
Slate
New Jersey Newsroom
The Ann Arbor Chronicle
NewsTilt