Membership models at media companies hit subscription model barriers

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Membership models have been a fashion among news start-ups, led in part by the now-defunct Dutch site De Correspondent, which ultimately collapsed in 2020. The idea is to gain support from passionate members rather than just subscribers and to create or address communities.

Three followers in the De Correspondent mold, however, suggested the membership model may face some of the same challenges as the traditional subscription model from fatigue with news, to questioning the value of news and of membership itself, and the cost of living.

“We have definitely taken a hit in the past few months,” said Leon Fryszer, chief executive of the German site Krautreporter

German media company Krautreporter uses the membership model.
German media company Krautreporter uses the membership model.

He and others on the panel about membership models at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia said membership was challenged by a range of factors, including a push towards subscriptions and forms of membership from more traditional publishers.

“You have to constantly retell the story, why are you here, what is the problem in the world that you are trying to fix,” said Lea Korsgaard, editor-in-chief of the Danish site Zetland. “That’s what journalism failed to do for so many years. We took for granted that people could figure out for themselves why journalism mattered.” Her solution for now was to invest more in journalism.

Danish media company Zetland also relies on members for its revenue model.
Danish media company Zetland also relies on members for its revenue model.

Fryszer said he believed Krautreporter would investigate other revenue streams and methods to reach an audience it could convert to loyal membership, especially as a general rather than local or specialist publication. In a sense, membership-led sites had pioneered the idea of paying for news at a time when readers were exhausted with clickbait. Now, however, everyone was chasing subscribers or members.

“It’s become easier for everybody — for us, it means our comparative advantage has changed,” he said. 

For much more on the whole reader evenue model, see the INMA Readers First Initiative.

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

About Peter Bale

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.