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April 17, 2019, 11:44 a.m.
Business Models
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   April 17, 2019

Why is another digital news organization starting a membership program?

Ad revenue is unsteady or declining across the industry, and media companies of all stripes are trying to figure out where their next revenue stream is going to come from. And if it can build up loyal reader revenue as independent income, membership might help outline a sliver of HuffPost’s future.

Membership harkens from NPR tote bag feels and talking about the impact and meaningfulness of public radio’s mission. It’s since expanded to an umbrella of reader revenue while think tanks like the Membership Puzzle Project assess the concept’s opportunity to rethink the reader relationship, not just create another revenue stream. (Though still, that’s important too!)

HuffPost joins BuzzFeed News, Vox Media, and a host of other major digital media companies in looking to readers for cash. Editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen wrote in the announcement (brackets mine):

If you want to support our mission ― beyond reading, watching and sharing our journalism ― you can join HuffPost Plus, our new membership program, which will help us keep reporting the stories that matter most to you.

Our membership program is not a paywall because we believe our journalism should remain freely available to everyone ― not just those who can afford to pay.

We have three levels of membership:

  1. Free registration so readers can easily sync their bookmarks and manage newsletters
  2. A monthly membership that includes access to members-only newsletters and other features for people who want to help us grow our coverage of important, undercovered issues [$5.99/month; includes discounts on HuffPost stuff, an ad-free app experience, the same bookmarking feature as the free tier]
  3. An annual membership for super fans, which comes with an exclusive, limited-edition “People Before Power” T-shirt [$99.99/year, or $8.33/month; includes the above tiers’ features and of course the t-shirt]

We want to continue to cover the stories that matter, and we will be paying close attention to what our members are reading and viewing ― and to their feedback. So please consider joining us.

As HuffPost tested the login component of membership, thousands of users signed up on HuffPost’s site without it being directly promoted, Polgreen told Publishers Daily. Those readers consume six times as much content per visit as non-logged-in readers — the core of a membership model.

HuffPost has been trying to figure out its way in the world of parent giant Verizon’s digital media Oath-turned-Verizon Media, which also includes Yahoo, TechCrunch, and other brands. Oath was valued at just $200 million earlier this year, not too long after Verizon had earlier assessed it at $4.8 billion; NBC News pointed out that Oath reported $1.8 billion in revenue in 2018’s third quarter, despite its goal of $10 billion in revenue each year. HuffPost laid off roughly 20 editorial employees in Oath-wide cuts in January, just after BuzzFeed’s 15 percent cut.

Oath/Verizon Media has been working on subscriptions services since the fall, though Yahoo Finance is in the early stages of testing a premium product at $35 to $55 per month. (That’s down from $100 when it was first floated.)

BuzzFeed News’s membership rolled out at the end of 2018, months before its painful layoffs. Vox has also launched a membership program this year, focused entirely on its YouTube community and sharing the DVD-extras-equivalent of its videos. YouTube takes a 30 percent cut of the channel membership dollars, though; it’s partially funded by the Google News Initiative.

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