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Why memberships are the logical next step for creators

Everyone from niche podcasters to major news outlets are moving to memberships to support their work. 

Memberships are the next logical step for independent media and the proof is in the pudding: numerous Steady creators (Si apre in una nuova finestra), but also major media outlets like the Guardian and NYTimes, are successfully harnessing the power of direct reader funding. So why are online media outlets moving towards memberships?

The simple answer is that the media must survive, and to do this, they need to earn money. For a long time, advertising revenue was the solution to this problem. But advertising is becoming more and more difficult to rely on, both on and offline. The digital giants Facebook and Google get most of the money that is spent on online advertising.

So now what? Basically, there are only three possible paths that creators can take:

1. Surrender or evade

Many projects see no way out other than selling out or closing down. In the USA, 171 local counties have seen the spread of "news deserts" (Si apre in una nuova finestra), where there are no longer any local newspapers or journalism.

Others are looking for solutions, but many have had to give up their original business models. Some large media houses no longer concentrate on publishing, but have begun to invest in new business areas where they can make more money, such as e-commerce sites or online job boards. The StepStone platform, for example, is just one of numerous web services in which German news publisher Axel Springer SE has invested (Si apre in una nuova finestra). These new methods of income are now co-financing journalism.

Democracy can’t survive without journalism, nor with co-financed media alone. We need independent media and creators who people can trust and who won’t sell out.

2. Hold on to the old

Many news sites are sticking to conventional methods. They cling to traditional business models and, thanks to search engine optimization and clickbait methods, are able to be successful.

The problem is that advertising revenue is contingent on clicks, comments and shares. Traffic is the be-all and end-all, which leads creators to resort to headlines and teasers that over-sell content, their texts peppered with keywords for search engines, instead of being well-written. Let’s not even mention the abundance of kitten and toddler videos, all designed with click rates in mind.

This phenomenon is not only seen on news sites; it affects all forms of online media. On video platforms, for example, suggested videos become more and more extreme, dragging you into an endless viewing hole. A good reputation and a lasting audience connection can’t be developed this way, not to mention the other perils of advertising (Si apre in una nuova finestra).

3. Innovate

If you’re not satisfied with the first two options, you’re going to need to find new ways of funding your work, with paywalls, subscriptions, or memberships. 

Memberships are more personal than subscriptions. Audiences become members of projects because they want to support that specific project. Membership means participation, involvement and even passion. It’s a display of confidence in the importance of a project.

For creators, it’s only logical to ask their communities for support (Si apre in una nuova finestra), because it’s communities that enable media projects to continue. Audiences are learning that creators can only pay their writers, designers, photographers and other colleagues if they receive money for their work.

Some innovative creators (Si apre in una nuova finestra) are already harnessing the power of memberships. They generally don’t finance themselves through advertising alone and yet they survive – and even thrive.

Steady creators include podcasters, journalists and YouTubers who build trusting relationships with their community. Memberships enable these creators to earn a dependable income, remain independent and get on with the work their communities love them for.

Ready to try memberships?

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