Fun with subscription products

“Some may be free, some may be premium. At theSkimm, we think of all of our products as subscription — all users are subscribing to a point of view or a value proposition, even if they aren’t paying.”

Subscriptions are on the mind for every publisher as Facebook and Google continue to cannibalize ad dollars. But while a lot of media companies aren’t new to the concept (hi print), the industry is very early in exploring the different subscription frameworks in a digital world. That will change.

So let’s start with the basics. What is a subscription? At theSkimm, we define a subscription product as:

  • Habitual: It’s part of someone’s routine. They “need” it.
  • Recurring: It’s delivered on a regular basis. The user knows what to expect and when to expect it.
  • Consistent value proposition: Each element and feature aligns with a centralized value statement. A user should be able to clearly say “I find value in this product because I get X every Y.”

Ultimately, a subscription product is something that hits all the points above. Some may be free, some may be premium. At theSkimm, we think of all of our products as subscription — all users are subscribing to a point of view or a value proposition, even if they aren’t paying. Our newsletter is a subscription product — our audience reads it every day in their morning routine to understand what’s happening in the world. Our calendar is a premium subscription — our audience pays to know what’s coming up in the news and zeitgeist every day.

As media moves into uncharted territory, we’ll start to learn lessons from other industries. So let’s break a few down.

1. Volume: This is purely transacting on amount of content. It’s the same product and content, but users pay for more. This is the traditional publisher route — The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc. are all heavily based on volume.

2. Content A vs. Content B: This is transacting on an entirely different type of content that is considered to be “premium.” Some examples are YouTube Red or ESPN Insider — the core product is free, but users pay to unlock premium, differentiated content.

3. Features: Users pay to have a better experience or additional features within the same product. This is where most non-media companies are operating: Amazon and two-day shipping, Spotify and offline listening, dating apps and unlimited messaging, and many many more. With all these examples, the core experience is the same, and users are paying to unlock a valuable “must-have” feature. The most common route here for media companies is paying for no ads, but it’ll be interesting to see where else they can play in this space that’s traditionally dominated by tech companies.

4. All or nothing: Pretty simple. Pay or get nothing. Most video streaming services operate here — Netflix, Hulu, etc. It’s risky but can work if you have obvious, upfront value.

5. Superfan: Users pay to get special access to things like events, swag, and behind-the scenes looks, generally transacting on brand loyalty and affinity. We’re seeing more publishers try this route, often as “memberships.”

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and we’re starting to see a lot of companies offer a mix-and-match version of these different models. It’s an exciting time for publishers to rethink their entire value proposition and how that can fit into a subscription model.

Dheerja Kaur is head of product at theSkimm.

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Jake Levine   The return to now

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Paul Ford   Go global

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Burt Herman   Things get real

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Errin Haines   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts