Ariel Zirulnick, Fund Director at Membership Puzzle Project talks to your host Vahe Arabian of State of Digital Publishing about the state of membership in News. The Membership Puzzle Project is finding solutions for the future of high-quality journalism, looking at how to find a sustainable news organization that restores trust and value in journalism and incentivizes readers to become paying members of an online community.  


Episode Highlights:

    • What is Ariel’s background and of the Membership Puzzle Project?  
    • MPP does a lot of work to help improve audience engagement and improve trust.   
    • How has Ariel seen monetization with journalism evolve? 
    • MPP is not intentionally an accelerator and they are at their core a research project.  
    • Why did Ariel Zirulnick decide to join Membership Puzzle Project?
    • What new changes has Ariel seen at MPP as new publishers have come on board? 
    • How does Membership Puzzle Project see the differences between subscription and membership? 
    • What parts of the world has Ariel seen the most experimentation?
    • The Daily Maverick in South Africa, after a year and a half, is around 10,000 members, showing the power of membership.
    • Why is having a particular focus important to MPP?
    • What should organizations consider when setting up a membership offering? 
    • Is there a danger that news organizations may become more online platform-centric?
    • Newsletters are popular now because of the overwhelm that people feel from the endless news cycle.
    • What is the skill-set needed to analyze audience behavior? 
    • News organizations need to become more excited about their audience and not just the news subjects they cover.  
    • Remain in steady communication with your audience to stay up-to-date on their needs.  
    • Comments are starting to make a comeback for engagement. 
    • How can events play a role in addressing membership? 
    • What membership predictions does Ariel have for 2020? 


Related:  EP 4 - State of Online Subscriptions With MPP Globals' Trena De Landro

3 Key Points:

  1.   Subscription models are seen by MPP as transaction with the audience paying publishers for content. 
  2.   Membership models are viewed by MPP as a ‘social contract’ with the audience giving not just money, but also time, expertise, connections, and ideas to a cause they are passionate about. 
  3. MPP has received more than 230 applications. Less than 100 of them came from the United States. The second largest amount came from Latin America, which has been ‘far more experimental in the reader-revenue space than the United States.’  


Tweetable Quotes:

  • “Since MPP’s inception, we’ve been particularly fascinated with membership as not just a revenue model, but as an editorial orientation that sees readers as much more than an ATM.” – Ariel Zirulnick
  • “We’re not necessarily looking for something that can appear on a piece of paper, cut and dry as a success story, but something that has interrogated a question the industry can learn from.” – Ariel Zirulnick
  • “You can’t ask audience members to contribute to your organization financially until you have started to earn their trust.” – Ariel Zirulnick


 Referenced links:


  • Advisory Support
  • Insights & Data
  • Content Cluster Strategy Toolkit

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