Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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The Beast Inside: Exploring the possibilities of “exclusive content”

Ever since the digital shift, publishers are actively looking for alternate sources of revenue, with membership and subscription fees becoming an increasingly more attractive source of revenue for publishers. The Daily Beast, an American news, politics and culture publication, is launching a paid membership service for the first time in its ten year history.

Called the Beast Inside, the membership will cost $100 annually but founding members, the first people to sign up, will get 50 percent off. Members will get a newsletter called the Rabbit Hole that’ll go deep into the story of the day; a customized version of its existing popular Cheat Sheet newsletter, a new podcast called Omnishambles and access on Fridays to the biggest story of the weekend. They’ll also be able to have their comments appear on the site, even on the home page, where there is no commenting option for regular readers.

In an interview with Digiday, Heather Dietrick, CEO of Daily Beast said, “We wanted to find a way to build deeper, more intimate relationships with our most loyal readers.” Getting readers to pay for information that isn’t essential to their day to day life can be hard to sell for publishers but according to Dietrick, Beast opted for a membership model “with the idea that keeping its core news product widely available will enable more people, not fewer, to discover its content and consider becoming members.”

The trend of “exclusive content”

Other publishers have created similar membership programmes offering exclusive content, such as The Atlantic’s Masthead, which costs $120 a year and has thousands of members and Slate’s older Slate Plus, which costs $49 and has signed an upward of 40,000 members. As paywalls become more common and readers get used to hitting them or coming across membership offers, they may be more inclined to pay, expanding the market for paid content.

The New York Times was one of the first publishers to set up a metered paywall, and since the paywall was introduced, it has now grown to more than 3.5 million subscribers. Medium is another example of a successful paywall that sells content on a subscription basis. Like most paywalled sites, Medium gives access to some stories for free. But unlike most paywalled publications, Medium relies solely on subscriptions, as there is no advertising.

Lessons for publishers

What publishers can learn Beast’s membership model is that unlike paywalls, it avoids the added frustration readers feel when they hit a paywall, which often removes the incentive to read on. Speaking to Digiday, Kris Subramanian, CEO of Chargebee said, “You don’t optimize for more clicks and hope someone will convert.”

One of the hallmarks of the sponsored membership model that publishers can benefit from is the exclusive right to advertise within a publisher’s newsletter. Exclusivity is key when selling major packages to brand clients as part of the new wave of publishing membership models. Rather than featuring small ads from a dozen or more local businesses in their email newsletters, publishers can reach out to top advertisers with the opportunity to become exclusive newsletter sponsors.

New opportunities

While other publishers manage memberships and paywalls to combat declining ad revenue, Dietrick said the Beast was doing so from a position of strength. Direct ad sales, a significant part of the business, are on track to more than double this year. The Beast also makes money from commerce and licensing. “This is more about finding more diverse revenue sources,” she said of Beast Inside.

A membership model has the potential to benefit publishers, as it can open up the doors to new opportunities for business advertisers. With the Beast’s loyal following and the premise of a successful membership model in place, the Beast Inside has the potential to become not only a successful subscription service, but an example to other publishers too.

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