We are in the middle of a month-long push to gain new memberships, and as publisher I think I need to explain why.
We launched Forward Kentucky last September, at the end of a crowdfunding drive that gave us enough working capital to get started and go for some time. Originally, we planned on doing another donation drive in late spring, and continuing that twice-a-year pattern to fund the work through donations.
What changed our minds? We decided that we wanted this to be a business that could stand on its own, and not rely on donations, no matter how well-intentioned. In order to grow, we need a steady source of income, and donations will not provide that.
One key influence was following the thinking of Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (TPM). He has been around for a long time, and he wrote a long post about the decline in advertising dollars and the need to find a better way to fund the work. (It’s really good; go read it.) TPM has moved to a “50% ads // 50% memberships” model, and after talking it over some with Josh, we have decided to do the same.
It has meant three big changes for us:
- Putting ads on the site, and eventually in the podcast and other content. We were not going to use ads, because we don’t like how they make the site look, and because the revenue from them is not great. (See comment above about declining ad revenues.) But, they are an incentive to becoming a Supporting Member, since logging in as a Supporting Member turns off the ads. And, we think the ads in the podcasts and elsewhere will eventually become a good revenue stream.
- Talking openly about memberships. Again, we would much rather talk about news, commentary, policy, and activism. But, if you are going to count on memberships to fund your site, then you need to talk about them. Since this is Membership Month, we’re going to talk about them a lot. After June, we’ll still mention them some, but not nearly as much.
- Making some content member-only. This is also a hard thing. When you produce content, you want the whole world to see it or hear it. But, if all your content is free and available, what incentive do people have to pay for a membership? So, we’re having to think through just what that looks like. Our first step is to have a members-only webinar with one of our interviewees, where people can take part in the webinar and ask questions directly. We’ll see how that goes.
Of course, every time someone joins, especially if they join as a Supporting Member, it tells us that people find the work valuable, and worth paying for. That just incents us to do more and to continue to offer value. So, we hope that it is a reinforcing loop.
Thank you to all of you who have connected in some way with our work. Feel free to email us at Tips@ForwardKY.com or Webmaster@ForwardKY.com with your feedback. And keep sharing with others and inviting them to read and join too! Word of mouth is key to our growth. And growing the progressive voice for the state is our reason to exist.