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’