It’s been a tough time for ad-based digital media, with companies missing ad revenue goals and their value declining. Having subscriptions looks better and better, which is why The Information continues to like the model.
The $399-a-year technology news upstart says it continues to see growth in subscriptions and is branching out with new subscription tiers to complement the main $399 plan. Starting Dec. 4, it’s adding a $199 plan for people age 30 and under (“The Information Young Professional Plan”) and a $749-a-year plan (“All-Access Plan”).
The Young Professional Plan gives people access to events and a Facebook group only for people 30 and under. The rate is good for five years. Subscribers to the All-Access Plan get guaranteed access to all The Information’s events and can bring a guest. They’ll also get a hardcover book with The Information’s biggest stories of the year and original commentary by its reporters.
Jessica Lessin, CEO and founder of The Information, said the new, lower-cost subscription tier was designed to serve people who are early in their careers and haven’t reached their earning potential and are looking for events where they can meet people from outside their own companies.
The higher one is for people who highly value the events and have indicated they’d pay more to go to them. The Information has chosen to treat events as a subscriber benefit rather than a standalone business line and says its events typically fill up within an hour of tickets becoming available.
“We’ve never been more excited about the subscription model, and you can just look at what every legacy media model is trying to do,” said Lessin, who, armed with The Wall Street Journal reporting chops and family money, started The Information four years ago. “BuzzFeed is laying off people, and it’s very clear a subscription business is what’s best for readers and best for the business. We’ve been looking at how do we serve as many people as we can with our journalism and continue to match price to value.”
Lessin has said as early on as a year ago that The Information has more than 10,000 subscribers. She wouldn’t say how much that figure has grown, except to say that subscriptions are growing at the same rate as they were a year ago. (That figure excludes $1 trials, according to the company.)
The Information also sees a small but growing business in corporate subscription sales, Lessin said. And on the very high end, there’s also a $10,000-a-year subscription tier, the main benefit of which is in-person briefings. It’s less of a focus because of its limited appeal, but it does show The Information there’s an opportunity to grow business-to-business services that are highly specialized; most of the subscribers to that tier are people in finance.
Publishers tend to see their biggest subscription growth in the beginning, when their die-hard fans sign up, but it gets more challenging later on, said Mary Walter-Brown, CEO of the News Revenue Hub, which helps publishers build membership programs. “The hard work begins when you have to continue building your audience, so you have this pool of potential people to convert,” she said. “You have to get them in the pipeline — signing them up for newsletters, convincing them of why you need their support. You see programs stall if they don’t build their database of members.”
Along with personalization, The Information also plans to expand its coverage by doubling its editorial head count to 30 in the year ahead. The Information has a total head count of 30, including people outside editorial.
Events will also be a bigger focus in the year ahead. The Information puts on two kinds of events each year: eight to 10 networking ones and daylong, programmed events, which will increase from two to four in 2018. To reach a bigger audience, The Information recently started making those events available by video.
It’s easier to get recurring revenue by offering something of ongoing value, which is why publishers’ subscriptions and memberships tend to be tied to the editorial product. To that end, The Information considers its journalism to be its core offering and focuses on deep dives into areas it thinks are undercovered, like company board makeup and sexual harassment at tech companies.
“The natural limit of our subscriber base is based on how valuable is our product,” Lessin said. “I don’t think growth tops off anywhere near where we are. I look at the number of subscribers to the FT or Wall Street Journal as longer term, the audience of people who want to read the most important stories about business and technology. Whereas four years ago, it was, can you get people to pay, the narrative now is, if you build a valuable product, there’s a huge market for it. A lot of the things we’re covering, people aren’t covering now.”