‘It’s a relationship’: Why Quartz is leaning on community for its first membership product

Publishers looking for consumer revenue are realizing that unlimited access to content, or an ad-light experience, often isn’t good enough. That’s why Quartz is hoping to build a community around a new membership program that includes events, exclusive content and regular conference calls with Quartz staffers.

On Tuesday, the recently-acquired business news publisher announced the launch of a paid membership tier, which costs $14.99 per month or $99 per year; the price for the annual tier will increase to $150 per year in 2019. Separately, Quartz also launched a new, free app that adds a layer of community interaction to news, with Quartz staffers as well as a stable of business luminaries, including Sir Richard Branson, able to provide comments and commentary on stories shared within the app.

The membership is built around a mixture of content and community features including weekly, in-depth reports on hot-button business ideas called field guides, the ability for members to suggest questions for Q&As and regular conference calls between members and Quartz journalists. The publisher will also begin hosting exclusive member events starting in 2019.

Quartz’s membership joins an increasingly crowded field of consumer offerings being brought to market by digital publishers, ranging from exclusive products like The Information, which can cost up to $749 for an individual subscription to incremental add-ons from legacy digital players like Yahoo, which announced it would be launching a paid version of Yahoo Finance in 2019.

Most of the most expensive publisher offerings focus on skills. “The clearer it is that your membership solves a real problem for readers, the more you’re going to edge toward that higher price point,” said Rob Ristagno, the founder of Sterling Woods Group.  “You’ve got to make them more skilled at their job, or you’ve got to make them more successful at something they’re enthusiastic about.”

The Quartz offering splits the difference, delivering in-depth looks at important business topics aimed at readers unfamiliar with them, while adding community dimension as well.

“We chose the word ‘membership’ deliberately,” said Zach Seward, Quartz’s chief product officer. “In addition to the content you get, it’s a relationship with Quartz.”

Quartz was already on the growing list of publishers trying to increase consumer revenue. It produced and sold a hard cover book at the end of 2017, and at the end of August, it launched Quartz Private Key, a newsletter about cryptocurrency and blockchain, which has amassed “hundreds” of subscribers and has surpassed the publisher’s early revenue targets.

Quartz executives declined to discuss how many memberships it expected to gather or how much revenue the program is expected to generate.

Before it was acquired by the Japanese company Uzabase earlier this year, Quartz had begun conducting in-person interviews with loyal readers to discuss which kinds of content or services they’d want from a membership. It also surveyed the publishing landscape for signals on how much it could charge for the product. Even though a large chunk of its audience has access to a corporate expense account, Seward said he wanted the membership product to be something its customers felt they had to buy for themselves (and could afford).

“We wanted to focus on making the membership a really good deal, so you feel like you’re getting a lot of value to your money,” Seward said. “It should be worth the $100, $150, to give you that leg up.”

Most of the content produced for members will be handled by the existing editorial staff. A total of 15-20 reporters will be producing content for members, though most of them will also continue coverage of their beats on a day-to-day basis; the field guides take four to six weeks to complete.

To handle customer service queries, retention and other related issues, Quartz plans to hire more staff in 2019. It hired its first customer service staffers when it published its first book last year, then added more for its Private Key newsletter, for a total of seven people focused on consumer marketing and customer service. It plans to add another three people over the coming year.

While membership fees will deliver the bulk of the new program’s revenue, ads will be part of the membership content too. For example, an advertiser message might be incorporated into a field guide. No ads have been sold yet, but Jay Lauf, Quartz’s publisher and co-CEO, expects to incorporate the membership product into bigger campaigns for advertisers, before eventually making membership ads a standalone offering as its audience grows.

Much as Quartz has done with its other products, Lauf said that it will explore many ways to incorporate ads without disrupting the core editorial experience.

“We feel the Quartz ad experience has never been a negative one,” Lauf said. “You could imagine advertisers wanting to connect to people who care about this content enough to pay for it.”


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