Membership models are one of the new efforts from media companies searching for The Answer. They currently kind of feel like a cross between a euphemism for “subscription” and a modern version of the PBS Pledge Drive, but maybe they can become a meaningful new revenue source that brings readers closer to media brands. Whatever the underlying motivation is, one thing is certain: You need everyone in your company on board for this to be successful.
I’m a longtime fan of the Slate Political Gabfest. It’s as perfect a podcast as I could hope for. Every week they inform me, entertain me, and make me think a little.
I also like that it’s free. I’ve been listening to it long enough that I might pay for it, but they’ve never asked me to.
I’ve been curious about their new membership / subscription / “VIP” effort, Slate Plus. It’s $5 a month of $50 a year. I pay more for Netflix and Spotify. One ticket to a live Slate Podcast costs nearly as much as a year’s subscription. $5 a month doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask. But what do I get?
This is where the murkiness of all these membership models begin to kick in. Slate says I would be “supporting our [their] journalism” and promises me a “closer connection to it”. I’m not quite sure what that means. There’s another promise of “Exclusive access to your favorite Slate writers and editors”. Again, I’m not sure what that means, but I can’t imagine John Dickerson will be on-call to answer my questions about the Affordable Care Act. We tried this at FT Tilt and customers (correctly) realized there was nothing structured behind it.
The offering of Bonus Podcast Segments seemed to be a very concrete, attractive element of the membership. I love their podcasts, what could be better than more of them?
This is where media companies should beware before embarking down the road of using your asset of journalistic celebrity as a sales tool, especially if those journalists are not 100% on board.
In a recent Gabfest, David Plotz went into a Slate Plus spiel. His baritone voice is so radio-friendly, that when he half-heartedly tells me about a SaaS accounting software or an at-home postage service that he obviously doesn’t use, it’s completely forgivable.
But when you’re selling your own company, you better mean it.
Ploutz perfectly promotes their new exclusive Dr. Who podcast as a VIP benefit. He directs us to the Slate Plus website, and even aligns himself with the cause so strongly that he gives us his Slate email address!
But then it all falls apart. He asks the rest of the crew if they watch Dr. Who. One by one they not only answer in the negative, John Dickerson admits to having tried but “the chain never caught”. As the train wreck comes to a conclusion Ploutz offers “these Dr. Who fans, they’re crazy”. It is downright painful. If I was a Dr. Who fan, I might even be angry.
Slate just asked me to pay for a service where it’s painfully obvious that those who are selling it, probably wouldn’t buy it. They’re attempting to create the illusion everyone is excited about Slate Plus (look at the fun yellow font above someone famous’s picture!), but something like this completely destroys it.
Figure out exactly what you’re asking your loyal audience to pay for, and if it’s worth it, we will. The question to keep asking yourself, would the very people sitting in your building pay for this service?