There’s been lots of buzz about the move to Medium by major blogs and publishers, all in addition to the endless chatter about publications migrating more and more content to various social networks. Not surprisingly, most of the insider media attention tends to turn toward larger enterprises, often leaving few lessons for small independent, ethnic, and alternative outlets — all of which are squarely in my wheelhouse.
Since Medium has been extremely supportive in including the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ for short), which I co-founded last year to help fill gaps in the eroding local media in Massachusetts, in its grand monetization rollout, I figured that it might be useful to other reporters and publishers if I wrote about our experience so far. A cheesy FAQ seemed appropriate:
WHAT IS BINJ?
We’re a free-floating journalism incubator that taps teams of freelancers to work on projects that we then distribute to a range of outlets, from grassroots blogs to national news sites. And that’s just for starters — you can check out everything from our community engagement events to our wide range of columns on our Medium page.
HOW DO YOU PAY FOR STUFF?
We have tried (and had varying degrees of success with) different revenue concepts — from selling merchandise and throwing parties, to crowdfunding, to applying for foundation grants and special funds. But not even a winning combination of newfangled patron portals (for collections we have used Square Cash, Eventbrite, Beacon Reader, and PayPal) can make up for our lack of wealthy personal contacts. Having worked as a reporter — primarily on the social justice beat, no less — for the past 10 years, my Greater Boston Rolodex reads like a creative cornucopia of struggling musicians and media makers, most of whom have lost the tug of war with rising rents and moved to other cities. As a result, we’re trying anything and everything to keep our operation grinding, which is why we were so thrilled when Medium came along.
WE ARE ALSO LINKING TO THROWBACK POSTS LIKE THIS IN THE MIDDLE OF COLUMNS AND FEATURES
A history of (Mass media) violence
HOW DID YOU GET ‘IN’ WITH MEDIUM?
I’m the kind of idealist who likes to pretend that big players in tech and publishing are just like those of us who decided to stay in community news. Sometimes I even imagine that they’re willing to speak with me. Eight times out of ten I’m wrong and subsequently treated like a low grade hillbilly, but individuals at Medium have written back to me since I was pushing a serial investigative travel series about economic and environmental mayhem in rural Oregon.
I’m a major fan of Medium and didn’t think twice about using it as a home base for BINJ; I’ve seen far too many startup news opps bust their budget on useless sites and apps, and we weren’t going to be one of them. Instead we use Medium as a clearinghouse for all our content — including stuff we also publish elsewhere, which is almost everything. With nearly 200 posts in our first year alone, we jumped at the opportunity to first use special publishing tools to customize our page, and more recently to make some money on the platform.
WHAT’S YOUR MONETIZATION PLAN?
BINJ is privileged to be one of the first outlets — along with Serious Eats, Femsplain, Electric Literature, some others — to offer memberships on Medium. You can read about the details in our announcement, but basically we’re asking readers for $3/month or more, and for that we’re offering perks like early invitations to events and, most significantly, exclusive access to our locked BINJ Throwback posts that connect current events with headlines going back hundreds of years. (PLEASE NOTE: AT THIS TIME YOU STILL HAVE TO SIGN UP ON YOUR DESK/LAPTOP, THOUGH WE ARE TOLD THAT MOBILE IS COMING SOON.)
HOW’S IT GOING SO FAR?
We picked up 23 subscribers for a total of $143 a month in our first two weeks. (At this time we can’t see who our subscribers are or how much each person is pledging, but the average monthly donation (total haul divided by number of subscribers) is currently $6 per person, which is double the $3 minimum we’re asking.) We anticipate that number to grow substantially over the coming weeks and months, but already it’s enough to get us excited. That’s more than $1,700 a year. For a grassroots incubator that dropped 20 features and 100-plus columns — plus organized several events in the communities we cover — in year one with the first $70,000 we raised, that’s money we can make a real impact with. And if it grows into thousands every month that we can rely on … you do the math.
WHAT KIND OF MARKETING ARE YOU DOING?
So far we have done some minimal blasts on our BINJ and personal social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Medium), and are still working on developing an organized strategy. Membership paywalls require creative sales approaches, since it’s not exactly cool to send out links to blocked content. We’re also working with the alternative weekly DigBoston, where I am the news and features editor, to publish historical pieces (two so far) in the newspaper that include information about membership perks. In the coming month we will also be producing (in-house, at low-cost) and handing out packs of black and white promotional Throwback BINJ trading cards. We believe that success with these memberships will be achieved over the long term, with a lot of hard work, and we are fully committed to making that happen.
P.S. I’m happy to answer any questions about this or anything else BINJ-related — in my experience, inquiries from actual people are probably more helpful to the larger group than those which I thought up myself. Leave any Qs you have here, or tweet them at me, and I’ll figure out ways to address them on this post and/or on additional posts and upcoming videos and podcasts about how the BINJ sausage is made.-CF