Inside LGBT+ publisher PinkNews’ pivot to paid

PinkNews, the U.K.-based LGBT+-focused digital publisher, is this month launching a membership scheme as it looks to reduce its reliance on advertising and plug a revenue shortfall triggered by the coronavirus crisis.

For an annual fee of £50 ($65/€65) MyPinkNews members will receive early access to the site’s reporting via an email and an “ad-light” experience on the site. They will also get access to webinars and video meetings with the PinkNews editorial team and high-profile members of the LGBT+ community. In addition, MyPinkNews members will receive 10% off purchases in the PinkNews shop. The fee in dollars will be $65 and euros

Later this year, members will be able to gain access to exclusive news analysis and they will also be the only readers allowed to comment on articles once the functionality is made available. PinkNews switched off the site’s commenting feature three months ago due to a growing volume of homophobic and transphobic posts, said Benjamin Cohen, PinkNews Media CEO.

“The principal thing is that you’re supporting robust and meaningful LGBT+ media — that’s our starting point of the conversation with users,” said Cohen. “At this time, robust, meaningful LGBT+ media has never been needed more.”

Cohen estimates the coronavirus crisis will cut its revenue by about £500,000 ($626,850) this year. Cohen is aiming for MyPinkNews to at least recover that shortfall, which would equal 10,000 subscribers. MyPinkNews is also considering the launch of a patrons offering for supporters who want to provide more financial support and in return have a degree of influence in the company’s development and campaigning work.

PinkNews said it had booked several campaigns at the beginning of the year from travel advertisers, which ended up being pulled. In-person Pride Month marches around the world were also canceled this year, which led to many companies pulling back their sponsorship of PinkNews’s Pride-related receptions, events and content. 

Like other news businesses — and particularly as an outlet that reports on the LGBT+ demographic — PinkNews has been hit by the impact of advertiser keyword blocklists.

“Had Covid not happened we probably would have gone down this route, just not necessarily now, or as a priority now — we may have done it next year” said Cohen. “The media industry has moved quite a lot as consumers are more willing to spend money on good quality journalism … covid probably forced our hand.”

While March and April were “terrible” on the advertising front, excluding events, revenue is now roughly back to where it was last year, Cohen said. Comscore data shows PinkNews pulled in 5.2 million global monthly unique visitors in March 2020, down 61% versus 2019; April’s figure — 4.8 million — was down 65% compared with last year; and May’s 5.9 million visitors were down 60%. Cohen said this is due to the way in which Comscore counts PinkNews’ U.S. Snapchat numbers — since February this year, most of PinkNews’ content switched from Stories to Shows, the latter of which Comscore doesn’t measure. PinkNews’s Snapchat shows can reach many tens of millions of users a month. PinkNews’ web traffic is also up on last year, Cohen said.

PinkNews has for some time sought to diversify its revenue lines. Revenue derived from Snapchat this year is consistent with last year, despite some fluctuations, Cohen said. Twitter video revenue between March and July this year was up around 1,000% on overage versus 2019. Meanwhile, revenue from Facebook Audience Network and Instant Articles between March and July was down around 40% on last year, due to a combination of lower CPMs and declining fill rates, Cohen said.

Last month, PinkNews also became an official member of BrandAdvance, a diversity-focused ad network, freeing up some resources for its internal commercial team to focus their efforts beyond display ads.

“PinkNews is a big publication that gets a lot of traffic — I think [it] will start to see a fast turnaround in digital revenue,” said BrandAdvance CEO Christopher Kenna. “Brands are spending and they are asking for these demographics, they’re just not helping themselves [in] what they don’t want to go near,” he added, referring to advertisers who only want to appear in articles with a positive sentiment.

Meanwhile this week, PinkNews launched PinkNews Action, an advocacy platform funded by a €299,338 grant from Google as part of its European Digital News Innovation Fund in 2018, then equivalent to around $350,000. PinkNews also received a £250,000 ($313,000) loan this year as part of the U.K. Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

The company is currently locked in a legal battle with Pride Media, the U.S. publisher of Out Magazine and PinkNews alleges in a lawsuit it is owed unpaid earnings of close to $200,000, plus interest and punitive damages, related to an advertising partnership the two companies formed in May 2018.

Diane Anderson-Minshall, who became CEO of Pride Media in January this year — six months after the initial lawsuit was filed — said in a statement: “I’m not allowed to comment on anything currently in litigation but I support PinkNews and wish Benjamin much success with their new ventures.”

The case continues.

This story has been updated to correct the annual membership fee for MyPinkNews in dollars and euros. A previous version of this article stated the dollar cost as $63. The article was also updated to clarify that while Comscore data shows a decline in “all platform” visitors, which PinkNews owes to a shift from Stories to Shows, its web traffic is up. In addition, the article was updated to add a statement from Pride Media, which was received after this article was originally published.

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