Solving the membership puzzle

What’s the solution to the membership puzzle? Can independent, member-supported media and other projects thrive on subscriptions alone?

Eric Ulken, product director for newsroom tools at the USA TODAY NETWORK, writes at NiemanLab that 2019 might be the year journalists “might actually start liking [their] CMS.” He uses the term “full-stack publishing” in the context of tools evolving in intelligent ways that close the feedback loop with readers. Eric provides some examples and mentions his employer's proprietary system, but he also notes WordPress is “sporting ever more advanced capabilities” too, thanks to companies such as Alley Interactive and 10up.

If you haven't been following recent developments in the world of journalism, everyone is saying its future is membership, as Rob Wijnberg, founder of De Correspondent, helpfully explains at the end of his 4-part series on “unbreaking news.” Already known for setting a world record for crowdfunding success, The Correspondent will launch as the ad-free, member-supported English edition in the wake of another ($2.6 Million) crowdfunding success.

In cooperation with Jay Rosen and New York University, the crew at De Correspondent have been researching what they call “The Membership Puzzle” — (how) can independent media projects sustain themselves through their members alone? Unsurprisingly, their findings are relevant to any organization whose market or audience functions as a community of members with different stakes, interests, and abilities to contribute.

For example, Emily Goligoski and Stephanie Ho point out that some news media have had code contributed by member-subscribers or operate out of GitHub. Others involve their readers and supporters in data collection and analysis, training and apprenticeships, technical proofreading and translation. A List Apart organized an “ecosystem of practitioners” by asking members of their community to contribute skills and expertise as an alternative to donations. To create stronger more democratized institutions, sometimes you just have to extend a serious invitation.

Emily breaks down the best ways to become more human-centered and engaged with your membership in a free seminar video (slide deck and transcript) for UIE‘s All You Can Learn Library. Her presentation is geared toward UX researchers and designers or “anyone interested in learning how to build a successful community engagement and membership base.”