A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

“While large-scale social platform distribution makes sense for a number of publications to reach as many readers wherever they are on whatever device or platform, scale isn’t everything to everyone in the media ecosystem.”

There are stories that just don’t lend themselves to virality. And they shouldn’t.

nushin-rashidianSome news organizations publish stories that don’t benefit primarily from widespread buzz, shareability, clickworthiness, whatever you want to call it. There is some journalism, primarily niche journalism — whether that niche is energy, or the auto industry, or, in my case, cannabis industry journalism — that matters deeply to a smaller group of people. But what is important is that the quality and depth of it matters very much. And, above all, so much so that readers are willing to pay money to ensure that they don’t miss out, because some aspect of their work or life depends on staying in-the-know.

This is a premise against which a rising number of news organizations, including my own, Cannabis Wire, are hedging bets. The Information, Politico Pro, and even Jim VandeHei’s new venture Axios are all among a rising number of niche news organizations investing in a future in which people are increasingly willing to pay a substantial amount of money for focused, contextualized, analytical information from nonpartisan sources. And that price can range from $400 a year, in the case of The Information, to as much as $10,000, in the potential case of Axios.

Cannabis Wire just released its first paid report, about legalization in California and how it would change the global industry, for $199. It was an educated experiment for my news organization which was, at the time, not even a year old. The question was simple: Will influential people who need this information pay for it? And they have. Our challenge, of course, over the last year for our news organization has been figuring out who those people are. Further, taking time to identify the needs of that audience, which can be as simple as mining newsletter subscriber data, can shape and inform a news organization’s strategy.

There are a number of cannabis stories I could write that would generate clicks. The best strain for your migraine. The best bong for your morning wake and bake. The best cannabis-infused balm for your mysterious, but persistent, skin rash. But when it comes to writing about regulatory turns of the screw that could have implications for the future of the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry — say, packaging requirements for cannabis edibles — the audience for that suddenly shrinks substantially. But the audience that cares a lot — the license holders, the investors, the regulators, the lobbyists — wouldn’t want to miss that small development, and would pay to learn about it in a newsletter or a report. This holds true in auto, in energy, agriculture, defense, and in many other industries.

And while large-scale social platform distribution makes sense for a number of publications to reach as many readers wherever they are on whatever device or platform, scale isn’t everything to everyone in the media ecosystem. Sometimes, like when it comes to cannabis and public health, opting for cheeky cannabis stories can border on reckless. And for those publications who offer a premium experience, or premium information and data, it will be important to zig where others are zagging, and an increasing number of news organizations will likely go that route. This doesn’t only involve subscription-supported sites. A number of news organizations, including many local news organizations, or not-for-profit news sites, aren’t fit to survive on scale; they will slowly find ways to maximize what is important to them, like community integration or impact.

All news organizations ought to focus on identifying their value proposition in an increasingly distributed world, whether it’s brand or voice or hard-hitting investigative journalism. Those that focus on a niche have a leg up, and they’re embracing it. Just a few years ago, opting for basic paywalls, let alone high-priced premium content, seemed an inadvisable move in the media world. But as ad-supported journalism, even at scale, has remained an unsure bet for longer than the journalism industry might have hoped, the time to leap toward building membership alternatives could not be better.

Nushin Rashidian is cofounder of Cannabis Wire.

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Mario Garcia   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Trushar Barot   API or die

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media