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How memberships are propelling legacy print magazine Crafts into its next 50 years

Published by the Crafts Council for half a century, Crafts Magazine (Opens in a new window) has long been the go-to publication for makers and craftspeople in the UK and beyond. In time for its 50th anniversary, the magazine has a slick redesign and rethought its business model, turning to memberships (Opens in a new window) to bring its loyal readership closer together. Crafts Magazine Editor Debika Ray explains the changes.

What made you want to change up your business model?

The Crafts Council has been publishing the magazine for 49 years, since 1973. A couple of years ago, we outsourced the magazine’s production to an external publishing company, but now in the lead up to the 50th anniversary, we've been wanting to think a little differently. Obviously, since the magazine was founded, things have changed massively in the publishing world, as have people's reading habits. We thought we would overhaul the whole process and start from scratch.

One element was bringing everything we do back in-house, so we have a little more oversight over our subscribers, our data and the ability to be a bit more direct and responsive to our readers. 

We also decided to shift from doing six issues of the magazine a year to two thicker issues twice a year, an Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer issue, and balance that out by doing more online editorial, as well as live events. The Crafts Council has a gallery in central London, so there's an opportunity to work with our gallery and put on things like talks, as well as working with external organizations and partners. So there's been this whole rethink of everything we do and, as part of that, it made a lot more sense for us to be able to look after our members directly.

Tell us more about your membership plans. (Opens in a new window)

We have bronze, silver and gold memberships that we run through Steady, and each tier gives people access to different levels of what we have to offer. So if you're a bronze member, you get digital access. If you're a silver member, you also get the print magazine and gold level includes access to the live events.

Why were memberships the right choice for Crafts?

Memberships make a lot of sense for us as a charity, because we represent a very specific interest group: craftspeople and makers. It's a readymade community and so the membership programme is almost putting a label on something that already exists and enabling people to come together, giving them an opportunity to do that through us.

I often get people writing to us who say that they've subscribed to the magazine from the very start, since 1973. It's a very loyal readership and people feel strongly about it and have a vested interest in seeing it succeed.

The way we describe our offer had to change because the membership programme was no longer primarily about the print magazine, so calling people subscribers didn't make a lot of sense anymore. We did a lot of focus groups and research in the lead up to making these changes and we understood that people want different things out of the magazine. Some people want to read the magazine, other people prefer to engage through events, and some people primarily read online. 

The membership model made sense because we were able to offer different people different things and create a package that met our readers’ varied needs. Memberships are more suited to the way that people engage with journalism and editorial today.

The ability to be more in touch with our members was a primary driver for this. Now we have a direct relationship with them, so whatever's working, or not working, we'll be able to tell quite quickly and make changes as we go.

How do you make memberships work with a mix of print and online content?

Our online presence was already on the Crafts Council website and, since joining Steady, we've introduced a paywall for Crafts Magazine content.

The main shift is that we're thinking much more holistically about what we offer online and what we have in the magazine, rather than seeing them as two separate things. In between issues, we're going to be thinking about web editorial in the same way as we would for the magazine, commissioning regular, high quality pieces that go through the same rigorous editing process.

Exclusive members-only content on the Crafts website.

We've also started an editorial newsletter, which we didn't use to do before, collating everything that's online, every other week. Previously, the print issue, being every other month, was much more responsive to the cultural calendars and we had slightly newsy things about current exhibitions and a roundup of what was coming up over the next two months. That wouldn’t make sense for a magazine that's only published every six months. 

So everything in the magazine is much more timeless now, with the idea being that the magazine can be kept long-term. It doesn't lose its relevance as quickly as it might if it was more frequent. 

In our research, a lot of people said that they'd like to take their time reading the magazine, and they don't necessarily get around to it immediately. And then online, everything is the opposite. It's much more responsive to what's happening right now.

Why did you decide to work with Steady?

We decided to work with Steady because we wanted a closer relationship with our audience – working with an external publishing company meant our readers were somewhat at arm’s length. 

Steady allows us to offer members more choice in how they engage with us, as well as control over their own accounts and data.

It has also meant we’ve been able to quickly and easily introduce a paywall to our website, to ensure we are offering our members exclusive access to editorial content.

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