Posted on August 14, 2013 in Archive

The rise of author based subscriptions


Providing flexibility in content consumption can be beneficial for news publications, journalists, and customers alike. Maybe this is why we’ve seen a rise in author based subscriptions.

The Guardian recently launched Guardian Notifications, which allows readers to subscribe to their favourite journalists and columns.

At the moment, the feature is still in beta and is only available on desktop computers.

It is also limited to certain journalists and series, but The Guardian said if the trial received enough interest, they would deploy the service across the entire newspaper.

The move represents a trend of publications capitalising on the personal brands of their journalists, a trend that some news companies have accepted enthusiastically, and others have regarded with cautious suspicion.

Although newspapers stand to benefit from having popular, widely read authors on staff, some are worried that if they put authors front and centre, they will risk losing readers if those journalists decide to move to other publications.

The reality is that newspapers lost that battle as soon as journalists started blogging.

Instead of trying to fight the movement, news publications should embrace the reputations of their authors and let audiences choose the parts of the paper they want to read.

If publications work to support their journalists, rather than stifle them, they are less likely to lose them to other brands.

A lot of sources advocate for the rise of free-agent journalism and one great example is Dutch startup, De Nieuwe Pers (The New Press), an online publication that essentially allows journalists to become their own newspaper.

Author based subscriptions - Photo of DNP contributors

DNP – the Dutch startup that allows readers subscribe to their favourite journalists

Readers can either subscribe to individual contributors for a small monthly fee, or to the entire platform for a slightly higher amount.

On the night of its launch in February, 20,000 versions of the De Nieuwe Pers (DNP) app were downloaded and since then, author-based subscriptions have grown to 40%.

The platform has been appealing not only to readers, but to contributors as well. CEO of the startup, Jan-Jaap Heij, said he received more than 200 enquiries from journalists immediately following the launch.

The site currently has 17 regular contributors – but hopes to recruit 30 more by the end of the year – and each is responsible for his/her personal marketing.

These authors cover a broad range of topics, from politics and finance to gender issues.

One of the regular contributors, Arnold Karskens, whose writing is focused on his war coverage, said the platform is well suited to journalists with a distinctive character.

Author specific paywalls are an increasingly attractive option for news publications, and despite hesitation from some sources, are becoming more and more common.

Paid Content’s Mathew Ingram has long supported the idea that publications should bundle their subscriptions around certain journalists: “many readers consume media based not on corporate brands but on individual writers that they feel a connection to.”

Journalists have branded themselves since the dawn of newspapers – think how many journalists are also successful authors; however, the rise of Internet technologies, such as blogs and social media sites, has expedited the progress of their personal brands.

Some journalists have even managed to cultivate followings larger that that of their publications.

Ingram suggests five ways media companies can build paywalls around these individual brands, rather than content:

1.  Allow readers to pay for an all-in-one package

News publications should provide readers with access to everything their favourite writers produce; such as interviews, social media streams, news stories, and personal blogs. And all in one convenient location.

2. Create new forms of specialised content

They should provide early access to things like contributors reviews for customers who choose to sign up for a membership in a personal paywall plan.

3. Host live events featuring the writers

They should organise events that provide readers with an opportunity to meet their favourite writers in person and mingle with people who have similar interests. These events can be anything from large conferences to intimate readings.

4. Create a virtual community worth customers’ money

Further developing on the previous point, news organisations should provide readers with more than just content. They should create forums and social media sites where readers and fans can interact, so that they feel like a part of a community.

 5. Provide access to your writers’ expertise

If a newspaper has writers with specialised knowledge, they should share their expertise with paying customers, who would be entitled to ask for professional advice and information.

Author based subscriptions are potentially beneficial to all stakeholders.

The above suggestions are ways that publications can reward their readers for their loyalty, and encourage their ongoing support.

They are also an opportunity for news publications to better understand their audience. And what’s more profitable than knowing what readers want, and catering to their desires?