Extending Value with the Publishing Membership Model

The publishing membership model is having a moment. Unlike other monetization strategies, which often fit a broad spectrum of media publications, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to online memberships.

Data and analytics are a publisher’s best resource for designing a membership program. The best publishing membership model is one that appeals to the publisher’s existing core audience, with features and benefits that readers won’t want to pass up.

Beyond traditional paywalls, publishers are looking more deeply at what types of value-adds they can offer to entice readers to join their programs. At Kalmbach Media, Dan Hickey has been leading the way in developing a publishing membership model that extends his company’s new products and special interest titles. (Kalmbach Media has 18 websites and 11 print brands, including Model Railroader, Bead & Button, Classic Trains and Garden Railways, Astronomy and Discover.) In an interview, Hickey said Kalmbach is moving away from offering free content, and leaning more heavily on the publishing membership model for sustainable revenue.

Here are seven examples of add-on products, services, and other benefits that publishers like Kalmbach Media can add to their membership programs to entice readers to join:

1. Live events – Publishers can host live events that are available exclusively for paying members, or they can give early access to live event tickets to their members.
2. Local discounts – Leveraging their relationships with advertisers and other local businesses, publishers can send special discounts codes and offers to their members.
3. E-commerce products – Web publications can launch online stores, where they can sell all types of goods related to the niches or the industries they cover.
4. Paid video services – Publishers can offer exclusive access to video content, available only to paying members.
5. Expert insights – Members-only advice and content from well-known experts can add value to any membership program.
6. Event content packages – Publishers can create special content packages around important holidays and events.
7. Subscription boxes – Monthly or quarterly subscription boxes can be sent out to members with small trinkets and other goodies.

The best way to determine which features would entice your most loyal readers to become paying members is to ask them. Round up a pilot group of longtime subscribers and survey them to ask what they value, and what price points they would be willing to pay for certain benefits or features. You can also send them packages with samples of products that would be put into your subscription boxes, to get their feedback on the perceived value.

Live events play an important role in the publishing membership model. A growing number of publishers are hosting events, like conferences and shows, and giving their members the early access to tickets. Broadly speaking, the type of people who pay for access to online news tend to be the same type of people who enjoy experiencing things, so finding a way to integrate tickets to special events and other perks into a membership program is a no brainer for forward-thinking publishers.

Because the one-size-fits-all approach does not apply to the publishing membership model, publishers shouldn’t feel like there is only one way to monetize their programs. Some publishers are keeping their basic subscription programs—charging readers anywhere from $5 to $50 per month for access to content on their websites—alongside newer, more exclusive membership programs designed for their most loyal readers. The cost of these membership programs is usually stacked on top of a regular subscription.

Website redesign projects should be setup to align with the launch of any new membership programs. Having the new website launch at the same time as the membership program builds a sense of excitement, and that sort of buzz is necessary to generate word of mouth marketing on social media. This is also a good time to connect with your publication’s marketing, editorial, and business teams to confirm what the expectations are for each department and how those expectations might change in light of the new monetization strategy. For example, when launching a membership program, publishers might start expecting their editorial teams to brainstorm ideas for e-commerce products to include in their subscription boxes.

Once the membership program has launched, it’s important to make it easy for members to renew. Using the right self-serve payment software, publishers should create online modules that allow for recurring payments and auto-renewals. They should also run A/B testing to ensure that the sign-up forms they’re using are optimized for the user experience.

To learn more about launching a membership program at your publication, contact our team at Web Publisher PRO.