Many Publishers Are Finding New Revenue in Premium Subscribers

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At Axios—a recently launched news and analysis media company—readers who recruit 250 sign-ups to their "Smarter Faster Revolution" will be flown out to Axios headquarters for a lunch with co-founders Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, in addition to other prizes. Recruit 25 and you get a t-shirt. (Also check out the very nice staff photos that Axios posts.)

Digiday+'s marketing says that "The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage this past year of Donald Trump's charitable activities. Subscribe to Digiday+ to learn what still perplexes him about Trump." Plus "all subscribers get access to exclusive lounges at Digiday summits and members-only meet-ups at the biggest industry events."

The Atlantic recently launched membership at a price of $120 a year. A month in, they said membership is in "the thousands." The biggest benefit may be the special ways that readers can communicate with editorial staffers. "Our members value more that we are responsive to them than that we're beholden to the news," said Matt Thompson, executive editor.

Special access and communications are fast becoming some of the most common premiums offered by publishers. These premiums often go hand-in-hand with the fact that more people—yes, okay, young people but I think it's more pervasive than that—now value the experiential over even dollars in some cases. A theater got me to become a member last year by offering access to two meet-the-cast parties.

Indeed, "access" seems to be the key word to many of the strategies.

Just yesterday LinkedIn added a new feature called peer benchmarking, giving its premium subscribers access to three key insights. "With this feature, you can easily compare your company, or other companies you may be interested in, to industry peers to better understand their competitive standing and trends over time—all in one place," product leader and strategist Megan Kamil wrote in a blog post.

Access to archives can be another key incentive to becoming a premium subscriber. Education Week, part of SIPA member Editorial Projects in Education, offers a premium online and print subscription for $7.50 a month that includes 30+ years of archives. Without print it's $6.25 a month.

In 2012 Harvard Business Publishing made the decision to open archive access to subscribers on and hasn't looked back. "We heard people recognized [back] issues by covers, so we started posting images of covers [to help them find key content]," said Emily Ryan, senior product manager. "We saw a 20% increase in subscription revenue right away."

Events can capitalize on premium content as well.

Asked recently how they stand out in their competitive events market, Lia Kennett, VP events and special projects for digital publisher Recode, responded, "By offering premium content. We work very hard to ensure that Recode event content is something you will not get anywhere else... There are ways that we work that we believe resonate with audiences. We craft unique experiences. In addition to the content, we bring the most compelling players to the table, and it's really not formulaic for us."

Pro Farmer calls its premium subscription the VIP package. These subscribers are given an extra newsletter, Commodity Prices Text Quotes and Pro Farmer Today—their premium email service. A testimonial for the VIP package gets back to that special access to staff that The Atlantic and Digiday offer:

"I compared the VIP package with DTN service on a month trial basis. I called DTN to ask for an analyst and told me they don't do that. I called Pro Farmer and asked for an analyst, and he was very willing to talk to me for a decent amount of time. I really liked that feature and took the VIP package after that!"

Sometimes, simplicity wins out.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…