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Date

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Membership clubs: could they be the secret to monetising newspaper readers? (part 2)

Membership clubs: could they be the secret to monetising newspaper readers? (part 2)

See part 1 for discussion of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's initiative PG+

The Times of London has started a different kind of club, which does not provide any extra editorial content, but gives its members the chance to take advantage of a range of offers. These include free gifts, opportunities to save money and members-only competitions. The initiative is an expansion of the membership only Culture+, a venture launched last September, limited to print subscribers, which attracted over 90.000 active members. The Times decided that more could be done with this, and Suzi Watford, who had headed Culture+, was put in charge of the more general-interest programme Times+.

Watford told the EW that there are no specific plans to introduce extra editorial content in the future, but it was not an option that had been ruled out. It is no secret that the Times' parent company News Corp, headed by Rupert Murdoch, has plans to put pay walls around at least some online content at all its papers in the near future, but Watford gave no indication that there is a possibility that this might be linked to Times+.

Unlike PG+, the Times offering is clearly an attempt to enhance the value of the print product, as membership is complimentary to print subscribers. "It's still first and foremost linked into subscription," Watford said.

There is a general section of Times+, and then there are two different more focused packs - Travel+ and Culture+, which offer extra awards. Each membership to Times+ includes one of these packs and the other can be bought: £25 for print subscribers and £50 for non-subscribers. The Travel+ pack includes the Sunday Times travel magazine once a month, and travel-focused offers of a higher value, such as room upgrades. The Culture+ pack offers members a regular choice of free gift, often a book, CD or DVD, and offers such as a free glass of champagne at the Royal Albert Hall.

Currently, Times+ seems likely to appeal more to Londoners than those living in other parts of the country, as so many of the offers are London-based. "That is definitely not intentional," said Watford, however, "and it's something we want to change."

Some of the offers are events that give members an opportunity for contact with the editorial staff. For example, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Times+ members were invited to the Times Café where they could have free tea or coffee and meet journalists. Times cartoonist Peter Brookes gave a talk at a small gallery in London for another event.

When choosing which offers to provide, "we work very closely with editorial," said Watford, "particularly on the arts events that are coming up. We run past the editorial team that partners that we are going to be working with and pay close attention to the ones that they think are going to be useful."

Currently, the site itself offers little potential for interaction, simply a 'wall' where members can post comments in the 'newsroom' area of the site. Here, members do have the chance to leave their feedback about what they like and dislike about the site. And Watford feels that the members do have a chance to network in person: "whilst the site doesn't have a community aspect, we find that at the events that we do - the readers enjoy meeting each other, as well as the writers."

Will in bring in significant revenue?

For a start, Times+ will provide some income from anybody who chooses to sign up. It seems very possible, however, that the package will be viewed just as much as an extra benefit of subscription as as a stand-alone item of value. "We are obviously keen to push subscriptions and Times+ is both a fantastic retention tool and reward for those people but also a great acquisition tool," said Watford. "If people are passionate about travel or culture then they should subscribe to the newspaper." Another probably not insignificant revenue stream, one which PG+ is also likely to benefit from, is commission when readers take up the offers that are promoted.

As well as bringing in new revenue, Times+ offers the paper a less tangible but no less valuable benefit, the chance to enhance its core, loyal community of readers. "We know that our readers and customers are passionate about the editorial content in the paper. And this just provides more ways for them to enjoy that content and more ways for them to engage with it," said Watford.

This is a significant aspect of membership clubs, the idea of being more connected to the paper. It is a motivation which only a newspaper with a strong identity can take advantage of. Both Times+ and PG+ offer their members this less concrete but important benefit: the Times, a national, quality newspaper seems to be trying to give its readers the chance to be part of something a little exclusive, sophisticated, while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a city paper with clout, is allowing readers to have a more personal newspaper experience.

Many feel that charging for online content outright will not work, and there is a strong likelihood that unless a paper is offering something which nobody else is giving away, its online audience may well decide it is not worth paying. Recent polls show reluctance amongst UK and US readers to pay online. A membership scheme that also offers readers something else, something that makes them feel they are getting their money's worth, while tying them closer to the paper, might well work better.


Links

Author

Emma Goodman

Date

2009-10-30 13:05

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.


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