Bloomberg Businessweek is cutting down free access to content

Bloomberg Businessweek is introducing a two-tiered membership model starting today, joining other publishers that are trying to offset declining print advertising by pushing subscriptions and other reader benefits.

Starting on June 15, readers will hit an online paywall after reading four articles in a month. (After two articles, they’ll be asked to provide an email address to continue, in line with other publishers that are asking readers to pay in the form of an email address in addition to a subscription fee.) They’ll get two offers, a digital-only option and an all-access choice. The digital-only model — costing $50-$60 a year depending upon acquisition channel — consists of access to digital stories and the daily-updated app, a daily email briefing called Daily IQ, unlimited access to Businessweek.com stories (Businessweek stories are housed on a channel of Bloomberg.com and the brand’s advertising is sold as part of Bloomberg Media’s suite of products) and six to eight special print issues.

The all-access plan — costing $87 a year in the U.S. and $102 outside the U.S. — provides all the digital benefits plus the weekly print magazine, Businessweek’s twice-yearly QuickTake digital magazine, quarterly member conference calls with Bloomberg journalists and business leaders, and livestreams of Businessweek Debrief interviews with executives.

The paywall coincides with a redesign to make Businessweek more consistent across platforms. Since Bloomberg Media, the consumer arm of financial news and info giant Bloomberg LP, bought Businessweek in 2009 to expand its reach into consumer media, the magazine has been fairly siloed from the much-larger Bloomberg Business, which is 2,700 journalists strong.

The parent Bloomberg LP is one of the leaders in the subscription business. Most of its billions in revenue come from subscriptions to its financial news and data that financial executives pay around $22,000 a year for. But Bloomberg Businessweek, which had cost around $40 a year in print, has historically cost less than other business publications. The Financial Times starts at $249 a year for a digital subscription; The Economist is advertising a digital subscription for $180 a year; and The Wall Street Journal has a standard annual rate of $396 for print or digital access.

Scott Havens, head of digital for Bloomberg Media, said he saw the new membership prices as a starting point and that over time, the publisher plans to test higher ones, as well as a third, more expensive tier with additional benefits costing several hundred dollars a year, a model that’s in vogue with other publishers including Politico, Axios and The Information.

“This is the beginning of moving up the price curve,” he said. “What we do believe is we’ve undervalued the product in the past. If we’re successful and don’t see a drop-off in new subscribers, I wouldn’t be surprised if we started testing 70 and 80 dollars. You get a lot of content between the weekly and daily that, if we do it right, is more differentiated than most news out there.”

Havens said he didn’t know how many people would subscribe, but that the number of people who hit the four-article limit was a minority of Businessweek readers. Of those that pay, he said he expects most to choose the all-access model because people still want print. “The death of print from a consumer aspect is a bit overblown,” he said. “There’s something about having a magazine where you have an hour to go deep without distraction. There’s an emotional connection people have to something tangible.”

To promote the membership programs, Businessweek plans to step up its social media efforts, dedicating someone to social promotion and using its own social accounts; previously, Businessweek piggybacked on Bloomberg.com’s accounts. Businessweek has dedicated a few of its roughly 15-person consumer marketing team to the membership program, but Havens couldn’t provide specific numbers.

Otherwise, Businessweek’s membership program won’t impact its social strategy much. Like other premium publishers, Bloomberg has been conservative about distributing on social platforms, preferring to support its own ad-supported media; it doesn’t publish to Facebook Instant Articles, which publishers have been lobbying for a subscription tool. Businessweek doesn’t publish on Apple News, but is in talks with the app about integrating the paywall into it. Businessweek will continue to use Google’s First Click Free feature, so its articles will be indexed by the search engine and appear high in search results, although Google isn’t as big of a driver of Businessweek’s traffic as social is.