Reader Revenue
2 mins read

New study: How to build revenue by connecting with your audience

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From The New York Times to Honolulu Civil Beat, we see sites large and small pursuing multiple revenue sources. We set out to document this complicated calculus, and, in the process, found reason for hope.

Over the last three years, we’ve interviewed staff from dozens of news organizations that are pursuing direct revenue from audiences in the form of subscriptions, donations, and/or memberships, including ProPublica, The Texas Tribune, De Correspondent, Stratechery, and Slate.

These arrangements support a more collaborative vision for the relationship between journalists and the audiences they serve than news organizations have historically engaged in. Many outlets are taking the massive economic and technical changes rocking the news business as a prompt to act differently, and they’re finding that audience engagement and audience revenue are two sides of the same coin.

In collaboration with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, the Membership Puzzle Project, and the Institute for Nonprofit News, we’re publishing the full findings from our research in a “Guide to Audience Revenue and Engagement.” This report is aimed at publications in the early stages of exploring how to use audience engagement to drive both revenue and loyalty.

Could your site be a candidate for this kind of implementation? Here’s what you need to know.

  1. Are you niche? Subscription revenue works best for highly differentiated news products.

For publications with subject-area or region-specific journalism and a strong audience base in their coverage areas, a product-based subscription offering can work. If readers, listeners, and/or viewers see a site’s news and analysis as providing enough unique value, subscription might be a viable revenue strategy. A subscription strategy can work especially well for publications with strong institutional audiences in specific industries and when subscribers’ employers can pay the cost of work-relevant media.

A subscription strategy can work especially well for publications with strong institutional audiences in specific industries.

There are a few notable examples of publications that are growing subscription revenue with paid email products on top of free-access membership models. The politics and public policy site The Texas Tribune publishes The Blast, a “premium daily newsletter” that is used by elected officials, lobbyists, consultants, and political junkies looking for insider intel beyond what they can get on the site for free. Politico publishes Politico Pro, a paid “policy news service offering indispensable policy news in real time” which includes two exclusive daily newsletters, breaking news alerts, and special events.

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