Guardian joins NYT in mulling over members’ club

It seems The Guardian is considering launching a members’ club of some sort as part of moves to increase revenue, an idea that was also mooted by the New York Times a few months ago.

Members clubs are not a particularly new idea – they’ve been used successfully in the magazine industry for a long time – and they have a lot of potential, although probably not as a massive revenue generator, and less so in a recession (talk to anyone in the events industry to understand why). I’m trying to get hold of some concrete figures and experiences of these – if you have any, I’d be grateful if you could add them.

The biggest problem for newspapers in putting together a members’ club is the diversity of their ‘members’.

When the New York Times’ Bill Keller described their possible members’ club it apparently included “a baseball cap or a T-shirt, an invite to a Times event, or perhaps, like The Economist, access to specialized content on the Web.”

The Guardian appear to have a little more imagination: “benefits might include, for example, a welcome pack, exclusive content, live events, special offers from our partners and the opportunity to communicate with our journalists.”*

Still, from the very vague initial impressions I think both are making the mistake of seeing readers as an amorphous mass of ‘news consumers’ rather than a collection of niche markets.

The Guardian, for example, has particular strengths in covering the media, education, and ‘society’ (the supplements it prints on the first 3 days of the week). If I was launching a members’ club I would start with one of those (not media) and branch outwards. The offering then becomes much clearer (both to readers and commercial partners), the learning curve quicker and less damaging – and it also becomes easier for users to charge it to an institution.

*By the way, I love the fact that “the opportunity to communicate with our journalists” is part of the deal. So much for being ‘part of the conversation’

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9 thoughts on “Guardian joins NYT in mulling over members’ club

  1. Jo Ind

    I’d be interested in some concrete figures and experiences around member-clubs for any industry, not just newspapers.
    It seems to me the idea is similar to that of loyalty cards at supermarkets and bank accounts which you used to get for free but now have the pay for in exchange for getting your holiday insurance and tickets to Alton Towers.
    Speaking personally I can’t stand them. I don’t want to join a club, I want to read a newspaper/buy my groceries/have a bank account (a free one.)
    Signing up makes me feel owned and commodotised – but it evidently works as a business model or it wouldn’t have taken off in so many sectors.

    Reply
  2. Ian Duncan

    I see the web as pretty much anti-club. Why join a club when you can go anywhere, collect information and republish/share the things you like on a social network. Access to journalists might really appeal to a few geeks but probably not that many.

    Going after specialists might work but don’t they already tend to have their own hang outs – specialist publications, forms, blogs, even trades unions…

    Reply
  3. Matt Wardman

    Jo

    >It seems to me the idea is similar to that of loyalty cards at supermarkets and bank accounts which you used to get for free but now have the pay for in exchange for getting your holiday insurance and tickets to Alton Towers.

    The crucial difference as I see it is that a members club is an attempt to charge more for specific services, while a loyalty card is free – it’s a way of the supermarket getting customer data cheaply at the cost of a minimal reward.

    Would an equivalent to a loyalty card would be “we’ll send you a free CD everymonth if you keep buying the paper”.

    Would a “shoppers gold card” (5% off and use of a posh changing room with fragrance and a kettle for a one off £50 a year payment) be a better analogy?

    Reply
  4. EiNY

    What does “the opportunity to communicate with our journalists” mean? Do you get privileged email access? Or invites to events where you can meet reporters?

    Sounds like the Washington Post Dinner Party Lite. And we know how that turned out.

    Reply
  5. Matt Wardman

    >What does “the opportunity to communicate with our journalists” mean? Do you get privileged email access? Or invites to events where you can meet reporters?

    It’s like paying for lunch with David Cameron :-)

    Reply
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