Media Revenue Models: Will Tote Bags Rescue the Fourth Estate?

PRA Public Relations Media Revenue Models Blog

Are tote bags and other giveaways the new non rigueur in the world of media?

BuzzFeed recently launched a subscription campaign for readers, and supporters who forked over a year’s worth of fees at $100 a pop were rewarded with a tote bag. The question remains, is this a bold jump into a new revenue model - or yet another incursion against the struggling fourth estate?

The subscription model, as we all know, is a time-honored way for non-profit media such as National Public Radio to survive. One time donations are great, recurring revenue in the form of monthly donations - even better.

But what if your coffee mug/hoodie/tote bag comes from another type of media? One that is VC-backed to the tune of a half billion dollars? Are consumers supporting the fourth estate for a higher cause, or is the news content so irresistible, that anteing up monthly is worth the monthly commitment?

In the world of consolidation, mergers, social media take-overs and struggling sales, is asking for monthly contributions from readers a positive step, or further evidence of the struggles in the world of journalism?

This is the conversation around Buzzfeed, the social media-infused news and feature site that’s launched a subscription appeal to create enduring revenue - and hopefully pay off for those VC-inspired investments.

What do you think? In reading the comments from journalists and others in this article, there are some serious raspberries being blown at the idea of recurring-income in the form of monthly membership fees.

My take, for what it’s worth, is that this is simply the next-gen approach to that old, but vanishing, standby, the newspaper subscription. While consumers may not have always hefted that big roll of newsprint off their lawn every day, they valued access to the content. Today, it’s a digital lift from the greenscape of social media to your device screen.

I think that increasing monthly contributions (read: subscription model) may help stabilize the media, giving publishers a reliable source of revenue. It may even (oh please please please) allow them to be less dependent on clicks and eyeballs in determining content. And wouldn’t we like to see more balanced, nuanced article choices than those that are simply generating the greatest outrage-driven clicks? Better yet, perhaps consumer-funded media will give us an alternative to a Facebook and Google-dominated media content universe?

On the flip side, yes - Buzzfeed’s revenue move means that for-profit is entering the revenue-stream strategy of the public-serving media. However, as of this writing there are 47 for-profit and 35 news non-profits relying on a paid-membership component, so this trend may be gaining traction as 2019 closes in and the battle for survival outside of Mark Zuckerberg’s world escalates.

I’m still on the fence, but it may not be too far in the future in which this household is host to both an NPR coffee mug and a Buzzfeed tote bag.

Read the full NeimanLab article here: