Choosing the right membership (or subscription) model

Members only, friendly yet authoritative sign, by John Bell, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

As I mentioned yesterday, my friend Suchandrika Chakrabarti has an excellent overview for freelancers on writing your own bio through writing ones for her first year of being freelance.

In addition to that post, the other highlight from my newsletter today is an excellent look at the hottest issues in media right now: Membership and subscriptions. It’s a comprehensive look at various subscription models and services, but they also talk about a membership model in Albany New York. The newspaper there has tiers, “providing options for the customer”, according to Brad Hunt sales and retention manager for Albany (N.Y.) Times Union. “Instead of losing them outright or feeling like we were forcing them to go to a higher frequency in order to get to that gold status, we wanted to provide the means for the customer to choose,” he said.

More tomorrow, and remember, if you want to highlight a story for me, let me know on Twitter @kevglobal.

The Age of the Freelancer: Should journalism contests rethink their fees?

Will Write Poems for Food, by Taymaz Valley, Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

In today’s newsletter, we find an example that runs counter or Betteridge’s Law. For my non-British readers, Betteridge’s Law, coined and named after Ian Betteridge is:

This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word “no.” The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.

Betteridge’s law of headlines, Wikipedia

That is a long-winded way of saying that in this case the answer might be yes, the question asked might be “yes”.

Nieman Lab looks at why journalism contests should rethink their fee structure as more and more journalists find themselves freelancing whether they like it or not.

Suchandrika Chakrabarti, my friend and former collaborator when she worked for Trinity-Mirror (now Reach) flagged this up from the newsletter today. She has not only launched her own freelance journalism career but also the wonderful Freelance Pod.

And this LinkedIn post of hers is definitely going into the newsletter tomorrow. She starts the post off with:

It’s the anniversary of my third redundancy! Also, it’s a year since I went freelance. Let’s talk about it.

Looking back on a year of freelancing, via my third-person biographies, Suchandrika Chakrabarti

If you spot something that you think deserves to be in tomorrow’s newsletter, flag it up to me on Twitter, @kevglobal, and if you haven’t subscribed to the newsletter yet, you can here.

A worksheet from the New Yorker to help you develop your newsletter

Pamphleteer, revolutionary, radical intellectual, and deist, Paine is shown here, in the town of his birth, with a copy of his most celebrated work, ‘Rights of Man’, published in 1791. by Robert Alexander

I’m in the process of developing a daily newsletter at my day job, so newsletter strategy is at the forefront of my mind. That’s why it was super helpful that in the top story of today’s newsletter there is an interview with Dan Oshinsky, who oversees newsletter strategy for The New Yorker. GEN interviewed Oshinsky on how they develop newsletters. Not only is there several good points in the interview, but there is also a link to a worksheet that the New Yorker uses in developing its newsletters. It’s a really handy resource.

In building the organisational case that of all of the digital things we could do that we needed to prioritise a newsletter over other things, I pulled on a lot of data and analysis that newsletters are critical to building a loyal audience primed for membership. I work for one of the longest member-driven media groups in the US, a regional NPR/PBS group, and this is

One of my go-to quotes on newsletter strategy comes from an earlier review of newsletters at The New Yorker and Oshinsky’s thinking in which they found:

Last year, Condé Nast’s data science team built a model to predict which factors best determine whether a NewYorker.com reader will become a subscriber. Whether someone was a newsletter subscriber was the No. 1 indicator. Thus, The New Yorker can draw a straight line between the quality of its newsletter readership and its bottom line: more newsletters subscribers, in turn, means more paid readers.


With its new newsletter director, The New Yorker wants to experiment with standalone and international-focused products, by Ricardo Bilton, Nieman Lab

In addition to newsletter strategy, there is also a really good look at the 1000 true fans theory and what that means for journalism start-ups.

Have a great weekend. And if you have a story, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal, and if you want to subscribe to the newsletter, it’s easy to do here.

Slate expects almost half of its revenue to come from podcasts

Headphones on a baby, by Gideon Tsang, from Flickr

The top story in the newsletter today reminds me how reader revenue, whether that be through subscriptions or memberships, is remaking media. Digiday is reporting that Slate expects nearly half of its revenue to come from podcasts, but the thing that stands out is Slate sees this as supporting their subscription model, Slate Plus. They aren’t looking for syndication deals. It’s all about building a loyal, paying audience on their own platform. How times have changed. From Digiday:

But where some of the newer scripted podcast producers are eyeing the big checks that platforms such as Luminary are writing, Slate sees them as a way to build its own business. Kammerer said that while Slate has had discussions with podcast platforms about licensing or producing exclusive shows for platforms, it has declined to pursue them because it is more interested in using its shows to build Slate Plus.

Slate expects nearly half of its revenue will come from podcasts this year, by Max Willens, Digiday

And I also want to highlight Reach PLC (formerly Trinity-Mirror and also a former client of my consultancy, Ship’s Wheel Media) and their efforts to try to bring some comity to the discussions around Brexit with their Britain Talks project. Their efforts to engage audiences, not only with their journalism but also in broader issues, really impresses me, and I appreciate more than most the challenging business environment that they are operating in.

As always, if you have a media business story that you think I should highlight in the newsletter, let me know on Twitter @kevglobal. And you can subscribe to the newsletter here.

The Guardian is back from the brink

The Guardian and Observer offices back when I worked there, by Kevin Anderson (me) from Flickr

The top story in my international media newsletter is The Guardian’s great news that it has broken even for the first time since 1998. I worked at the Guardian from 2006 to 2010, and it has been great to see the turnaround since Kath Viner took over as editor.

I think that the BBC article, an extra link not on the newsletter, summarises all of the things that went into this change in fortune. My friend and Indian media-tech superstar Durga Raghunath has the tl:dr version of the BBC’s coverage:

In the BBC analysis, they attribute part of the change in fortune from cost cutting: closing of 450 positions, largely through voluntary redundancy (buyouts) and also reducing the costs of printing by ditching its bespoke Berliner format and going tabloid. But the switch to a membership, reader support led business model has also helped. A lot.

Emily Bell who ran the digital editorial operations when I was there also had a couple of excellent points on Twitter.

Other top stories in the newsletter today:

That is the newsletter today. If you have a story that you think is worth including, shoot it to me on Twitter @kevglobal. And if you want to subscribe to the newsletter, go here.

TikTok Explained and an Indie Media Collective in Boston

An unsettled cat on TikTok, Giphy.com

How much have you been hearing about TikTok? It has exploded on the scene, and everywhere I turn, I seem to hear about it. What is TikTok? NPR has a really good Q&A about this latest, hottest social media platform, and it is especially popular with really young audiences. My takeaways:

  • Facebook is for Grandma.
  • Snapchat? “Over it.”
  • ” TikTok is kind of a culmination of every viral video app that’s existed in the last five, maybe even 10 years – kind of going back to early YouTube. And it’s comedy. It’s music. It’s sometimes makeup and sometimes monologuing. And it’s a weird hodgepodge of every sort of viral thing that could happen in a short-form video app.” says Brittany Spanos of Rolling Stone magazine.
  • ” But when I showed TikTok to my 20-something producers, they thought that they were too old for it. It feels distinctly for the very young,” Spanos said.

Moving on from TikTok another feature in my newsletter today, I also found a lot of great insights in this overview of Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism . Chris Faraone, one of the co-founders, described BINJ like this:

Basically, I wanted to create a miniature ProPublica, a collaborative, free-floating incubator that would be a Make-A-Wish Foundation for all of these news outlets to help them do what they couldn’t afford to do.

Chris Faraon, co-founder, Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism

This is a really good, actionable look at the kind of support that this group is providing for local news producers. It is giving small local publishers some room to experiment and also building deeper connections to users. The other thing that really stood out for me what that the institute helps small indies in choosing what they cover and what they don’t cover.

As usual, if you’ve got a story that you think would be good in the newsletter, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal. If you haven’t subscribed to the newsletter yet, it’s easy to do so here.

10 Journalism Newsletters You Should Subscribe to, Make that 11

Pamphleteer, WikiMedia Commons

I’m closing out this week in a totally meta way in my newsletter: 10 other journalism newsletters that you should check out, well, apart from mine.

But I also want to start something and post the top five stories based on what you have been clicking through to in my newsletter.

  1. Like most media, podcasting is pivoting to paid (with complications)
    From Max Willens, Digiday
  2. 7 reasons a freelance journalist should start a podcast, by my friend
    Suchandrika Chakrabarti, on Muck Rack
  3. Why platforms like Facebook and Apple struggle to boost local news | What’s New in Publishing | Digital Publishing News, a great piece by Simon Owens, on What’s News in Publishing, where I also have been known to write.
  4. The Telegraph’s roadmap to 1m paying subscribers and financial sustainability, by Ian Burrell in The Drum
  5. How publishers are using Snapchat’s curated stories tool for breaking news and more, by Kerry Flynn, in Digiday

I hope that you have a great weekend, and remember, if you have any good stories that I should include in the newsletter, let me know @kevglobal on Twitter.

Which came first? The decline in civic engagement or the decline in newspapers?

Death of Print, Darius Norvilas, Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

In my newsletter today, the top story looks at the impact of the decline in local news outlets in the US. The statistic that one in five Americans now lack access to a local source of news is not news, but what we’re now hearing is research about what that means and how it is impacting local communities.

I edited local newspapers for a very brief period of my career – about 21 months. I joke that I survived the six rounds of cuts but not the seventh. Those cuts included simple budget cuts, hiring freezes, a major reorganisation and an early retirement scheme.

I actually really enjoyed working in local media, despite the incredible pressure of trying to expand two newspapers amidst an industry collapse. I managed the newspapers in two towns in Wisconsin: Sheboygan, population 50,000ish, and Manitowoc, with a population of around 35,000. For the first year, I felt like an old-fashioned small-town editor. In Sheboygan, where I lived, people would stop me on the street, just to talk because I was the editor of the newspaper . But the cuts drove home just how badly the newspaper industry had shrunk. In 2005, the newspaper in Manitowoc had about 12 editorial staff. When I arrived in 2014, the local staff was still about nine. Today, it’s four.

During my time in local newspapers, one particular question gnawed at me: Was one factor in the decline in newspapers down to a decline in local civic engagement or was the decline in local civic engagement driving the decline in newspapers?

Research is now beginning to answer that question. Take this from an article in Governing:

According to a study published in November in the Journal of Communicationvoters rely more on national outlets — and become more partisan — as local newspapers decline or close.

“The more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government,” says Johanna Dunaway, professor of communications at Texas A&M University and coauthor of the study.


When No News Isn’t Good News: What the Decline of Newspapers Means for Government , Alan Greenblatt, Governing

The article goes on to highlight an increase in partisanship as the news becomes “nationalized”. Again, I saw this at the local level. People didn’t really distinguish between the local newspaper, the New York Times or cable news. It was all just one undifferentiated mass for them. People would call me up as the editor and shout at me about things in the “the media”, usually cable news – CNN or Fox, depending on their politics. I tried to explain to them that we didn’t have anything to do with that, were owned by entirely separate companies and that our focus was the local community, not commenting on the latest hot issue in Washington.

At the same time, they were very disengaged from local politics. In a conversation with our city clerk in Sheboygan, who helped run our local elections, she made the point that in the previous spring’s election we only had a turnout of 7 percent. She made the quite valid point that it cost the same to run an election whether the turnout was 7 percent or 70, but it was really shocking to see how few people made the effort to vote.

When local people did talk about politics, particularly on Facebook, it was frustrating to see them grouse rather immaturely about local government, rather than engaging with issues in a substantive way. More than that, they often made it clear that they were doing this from the sidelines and not as active voters or civic participants. It was civics as a spectator sport.

The article in Governing does a good job of pulling together the threads of a lot of research showing the negative consequences of this loss of coverage including a decline in local government accountability and even negative environmental impacts. But this kind of local reporting is really expensive and no one seems willing to pay. I had several ideas on how to begin rebuilding local reporting and, although my first year in Sheboygan gave me the opportunity to start putting some those into practice, the continued cuts and reorganisations made it impossible to capitalise on those early gains.

What we’re losing with respect to local journalism is hurting our society. And we need not just creative ways to start rebuilding that. We should all acknowledge that these organisations will not cut their way to growth or cut their way back to meaningful, engaged local news outlets. We have to find a way for this to work, for the sake of our communities and our citizens.

How publishers are experimenting with TikTok, the latest hot short video app

@pjf the Mad Scientist, by Stephen Edmonds, from Flickr

Publisher and broadcasters are always looking for ways to reach young audiences, the latest way to do that is the short-form video app, TikTok. In my international media newsletter today, the top story is from a look at how publishers are trialling “fun” programming on the platform. Digiday looks at the audience TikTok boasts:

According to TikTok’s pitch deck to U.S. agencies, about 60% of its monthly active users in the U.S. are between 16 and 24 years old. Also like Snapchat, users are heavily engaged with the app, spending 46 minutes per day on TikTok, on average. While TikTok doesn’t have a way for publishers to directly monetize on the app, such as through sharing ad revenue, some publishers are still choosing to experiment.

How publishers are using TikTok, the latest hot app, by Kerry Flynn, Digiday

Kerry questions about how much resources early adopters including NBC and ESPN can afford to throw at a platform that doesn’t have a clear way to directly monetise attention. That question alone shows the shift from the strategy a few years back of building an audience and worrying about monetisation later to thinking about the revenue strategy off the bat.

Other topics in the newsletter today are:

Publishers need to prepare for mobile app resurgence. Filloux says large players are preparing to dominate the subscription battlefield. Podcasters need to experiment with new revenue models. Brit & Co is the latest millennial digital brand in trouble.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here. 

Duct Tape and Spit: The pivot to paid content highlights publishers’ ad hoc tech stack

Duct tape moving van, U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

As someone who has cobbled together a lot of third party tools and down-right messy kludges to do something editorially on a tight deadline, I resemble the criticism in the top story in my newsletter today.

It was and still is very satisfying to use a third-party service, WordPress plug-in or some weird template you found on a random site to deliver something digitally interesting, but there are costs to taking shortcuts like this. And this is becoming obvious as strategies shift from ad-focused to reader revenue-led.

But here is the rub: To properly implement some of these systems takes a lot of cash, cash which small and medium publishers simply don’t have. From the article in Digiday:

Google’s and Facebook’s subscription products also remain too cumbersome for small or midsize publishers. One year after launching Subscribe with Google with 17 publisher partners, around four dozen publishers have begun integrating the product into their operations, but fewer than 20 have fully implemented it.

In pivoting to paid, publishers run into tech headaches, by Max Willens, Digiday

Also today, we look at other ways that content publishers are trying to find a path to sustainability, whether that is through paid content for podcasters, foundation support for local journalism or content marketing for businesses and brands. Here’s just a sample:

How to stop being a ‘carrier’ in the age of misinformation. The agenda of a free press? A functioning democracy. Buzzy, premium podcast service stumbles out of the gates. Seattle newspaper partners with local foundation for funding.

If you spot a good story about the business of media, especially digital, feel free to send it to me @kevglobal on Twitter. If you don’t get my international media newsletter in your inbox, you can get a taste of it and subscribe here