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gal-dem launches membership model “at a time of reckoning for the media industry”

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gal-dem, a publication dedicated to sharing perspectives from women and non-binary people of colour, announced yesterday that they were launching a membership scheme.

gal-dem has been publishing since 2015, but switched from being a volunteer organisation to being a professional business in March 2019 after securing investment for full-time staff. Most of the content is published online, but they also produce an annual print publication and host events throughout the year.

The new membership model has three tiers on offer; “sugar”, “spice” or “nice”, which have a range of perks and benefits, including free copies of the print magazine, access to a curated, members-only WhatsApp group, and exclusive invites to future events. The three tiers range from £4 to £12 a month, with options for annual billing.

The team settled on memberships rather than paywalls or other reader revenue streams to make sure their journalism remains open to everyone. “I fundamentally believe journalism should remain accessible to anyone who needs it and might benefit from it,” gal-dem’s Head of Editorial Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff told WNIP. “This was never going to be about us excluding people, it was always going to be about sharing the love.”

Just 24 hours after launch, gal-dem already has 130 new members; 13% of their overall 900-member goal. “In the short term our goal is to have 550 members signed up,” said Brinkhurst-Cuff.

Achieving that number would take off a “significant amount of pressure” from gal-dem, who have had to make some cost savings due to the coronavirus crisis, including completely cutting their commissioning budget. “We want to get back to the point in the short term where we’re able to commission people again!” Brinkhurst-Cuff emphasised.

Liv Little, gal-dem’s CEO and founder emphasised the importance of their audience when announcing the news. “gal-dem has always been about community and so since going ‘legit’, launching a membership model has been high on our list of priorities” she said. 

“It’s an important step in solidifying gal-dem’s future which takes up 99% of my brain space. I’m constantly thinking about how, as a small business, we can simultaneously shake up an entire industry and build solid foundations.”

Launching in the middle of a pandemic

The timing of the announcement may initially look unfortunate, but it’s something the team have been planning for a while, and in fact, may prove to be a lifeline as many publishers begin to feel the pinch of coronavirus’ impact on advertising.

“We’ve been working on it since last summer, it’s been something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” explained Brinkhurst-Cuff. “As anyone working in the media industry knows, it was a really tricky time even before coronavirus.” 

The gal-dem team have taken inspiration from some big players for the scheme. “As we saw with The Guardian, they went from being a loss-making company to breaking even for the first time in many years, thanks to an annoying yellow box! Memberships can really change the fortunes of media institutions both big and small, like ours,” Brinkhurst-Cuff said.

Gal-dem has historically been reliant on brand partnerships as a revenue stream, and although these are still important, the coronavirus crisis has put this revenue at risk for the team. “As those companies themselves have started struggling with cashflow, it’s not always the most reliable way to formulate your business,” explained Brinkhurst-Cuff. 

“Diversifying that, and in some ways being more active in our pledge to the gal-dem community as well, will help us in the future. There are going to be things we’re doing in terms of events and a WhatsApp group for members which will help us hark back to where we came from, which was literally a Facebook page where women and non-binary people of colour would come and just chat.”

The business has started to feel the pressure as the slowdown in partnerships and high overheads have put financial pressure on the team. This has reinforced their desire to reach out to their readers and ask for support.

“Gal-dem has always been about communities…and it would be incredible if we were able to exist on the basis of our membership alone,” said Brinkhurst-Cuff, talking about reaching their goals.

The team will be continuing to support the voices of women and non-binary people of colour in the era of coronavirus. As well as regular coronavirus content and columns on the site, they are also offering a specially curated wellness mailer in addition to the membership perks.

“It’s been an unsettling time as a publication whose main income stream comes from events, shoots and other IRL [‘in real life’] activities,” said Little. “But it’s encouraged us to think differently.”

Find out more about becoming a gal-dem member on their website.