Niche news site membership model perspective brought back to life from 2009

The internet doesn’t forget. So I often stockpile perspective (links) for the future.

In 2009, we at Technically Philly were digging our heels into looking at how diversify revenue for a local community news site. In the end, the largest driver turned out to be events, specifically the annual Philly Tech Week we organize. Before then and after some advertising, jobs board and light underwriting revenue, we toyed with donations, gettingsome prominent support and the requisite pushback.

In all the experimentation back then, I saved some great insight, much of which has been relevant lately. As we move back to a new form of that older conversation, I wanted to share a few takeaways from my reading back in 2009.

A few years later, as we’ve started the quiet soft launch of our second market, we’re re-looking at these conversations — trying to parse what we should transfer and what we shouldn’t. We’ve also begun the long overdue redesign process (more on that in a future post), and so, specifically, I’ve been thinking lately about membership, which, in our case, would be more like a donation with tangible goods in exchange (more on that, too, later).

Basically the idea is to take small sums of money from a niche site’s most passionate users — looking at $15,000 to $30,000 at best, here — and see that as (1) a small supplementary revenue stream, (2) a way to convey to users that a paid relationship helps, and (3) open up the ‘showroom,’ as my colleague Brian James Kirk puts it, for upselling later. (Check out our readership survey ahead of this conversation here)

For now, though, I wanted to awaken the 2009 archives to share some insight that has value (and to show one of my favorite parts of the Internet, it is easier to remember and so easier to not repeat mistakes of the past):

  • Offer additional access, basics goods, and ultimately, the feeling of being a part of an exclusive group that supports a community for a membership, as Steve Outing wrote then.
  • “What’s Missing from Today’s Hyperlocal Sites – Community Leadership,” from MediaTransparent, which is something I’ve continued taking an interest in.
  • Start over, build a business that spends less than it takes in, as Jeff Jarvis was preaching back then. Multiple revenue streams, ladies and gentlemen.
  • “Hyperlocal is made of people. You can build something awesome once, in one town, but neighborhood news and advertising is about shoe leather, guts, and determination — not about software,” wrote Ryan Sholin.


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