Your Content Commitment

My business model is to provide free content for the public, both in writing and podcasting, and then supplement that with advertising as well as a membership that provides bonus content and a sense of community just for paying members.

I’m actually part of running three different membership sites. I can manage this because each membership is clear about what the content commitment is, so members know what to expect in terms of content and value.  
For one of my communities, I provide a weekly podcast and a monthly newsletter. This slower content cycle works for me and the community as well.

With another community, we have one month each year where pledges are made, and during that month we create special members-only content as an inducement, and the rest of the year we can simply manage the community.

In the third community, which is podcast based, it’s a mix of the two. We have an ongoing stream of regular content that’s produced (largely unedited content posted immediately, so there’s benefit in being a member but it doesn’t require a lot of overhead in terms of content creation) as well as some bonus content that we produce once a year during “pledge season.”

I get a big boost from the tools that are available to help manage my communities. I don’t advocate building your own tools, when you can find existing tools that take care of a lot of the work.

Member services, member management, and credit card transactions are the three most important functions you’ll need to have handled and there are tools out there for all of them.

It’s pretty difficult right now to monetize writing on the web, especially if you are already not a large name or established publication. Even giant newspapers struggle to earn revenue from their paid content. People simply expect to get writing for free in most cases. There are however, some models that can work here.  
On my site Six Colors, I ask for members to join and support the site on a donation basis, so we can continue to give away our content for free. In exchange I give them access to a special podcast and my monthly newsletter. Consider this the PBS model: You’re not paying $75 for a tote bag, you’re paying $75 to support your PBS station and getting a tote bag as a thank-you gift. It’s important to provide exclusives so people are motivated to pay, but the value proposition is different.

On my podcast network, it’s a bit different. Podcasts are also a difficult form to monetize if you don’t already have a large following. Podcasts are generally free, and most people aren’t going to start paying for a podcast they’ve never heard of.

So there are now two clear models for podcast revenue: Advertising and Supporters. If you’ve got a big listener base, say 20k or more subscribers, you can be taken seriously by a podcast ad network. But my network had a bunch of podcasts in the 5-10k range.

These were dedicated listeners, but there was no way to make advertising work with such a small audience. Even with good advertising CPMs, you’re talking $100 for an ad. What I realized is that it was far more likely that I could convince a fraction of those loyal listeners to donate and become members and that would actually surpass my ad revenue calculations from a typical ad network. And that’s proven to be the case – my small podcasts now make far more money from loyal listeners than they ever made from incredibly low-revenue ad spots.  
For me, my audience is focused and enthusiastic so I can use that to create content that they will love and are willing to pay for. When you have a smaller, more niche audience, your best approach is to appeal to their passion for you and for what you’re putting out into the world.


Action Steps

  1. Get clear on your content commitment and what you’re providing to members weekly, monthly, and yearly. Once you commit to a certain pace of paid content, you have to stick with it. Be realistic. Don’t let them down. You can always ramp up the pace of content later once you’ve settled in at the initial pace.
  2. Provide content for free on your website, but ask your audience to support you directly by offering them a membership that provides them with more access or some bonus material.
  3. For niche content, ask your audience to support you – it may be much more successful than trying to find an ad model that works for such a small number of people.


Result You Will Achieve

A membership model that you can monetize by leveraging your community of passionate members in your niche.

Mentor: Jason Snell

Journalist and Podcaster at Six Colors. Jason runs a tech website, Six Colors, which features a membership option in addition to advertising, and a podcast network, The Incomparable, that has used a new membership plan to help support a community of podcast creators.

This article is based on an EHQ interview with the mentor.