December 3, 2018
An ever-shifting online media landscape: BuzzFeed offers membership plan; Mic sold to Bustle
by Alex Primiani
Announced earlier in November, BuzzFeed News is offering its readers exclusive access through a new subscription service, writes Anthony Ha at Techcrunch.
According to Ha, readers of one of the newest sections of the BuzzFeed media empire may pay monthly or yearly fees for new content. This new financial model isn’t completely out of the blue. Ha cites BuzzFeed News’s last plea for financial support from readers in the form of “one-off donations between $5 and $100.” The plea proved successful, and now the site hopes to partly keep itself afloat through this new membership plan. Ha writes: “For $5 a month, readers will receive members-only emails highlighting the latest scoops and taking them behind the scenes of BuzzFeed reporting. For $100 a year, they’ll also receive a BuzzFeed News tote bag.” Ha also notes that BuzzFeed missed its revenue target last year by 20 percent.
But anyone who might see this adoption of a membership plan as a natural step toward paywall service (a la New York magazine’s recent adoption of a paywall model) might be wrong. In an email to the BuzzFeed company at large, Global News Direcot Lisa Tozzi writes: “A membership program takes time to build, and we don’t expect it to be a huge portion of BuzzFeed’s revenue in 2019. That’s why we’re investing in it now and hope to see it contribute more to our work over time… This is not a prelude to any sort of paywall.”
Perhaps, BuzzFeed’s membership route takes on a different light after the more recent news concerning Mic and Bustle. For Recode, Executive Editor Peter Kafka has been following the story when on November 29th Mic laid off nearly all its labor force while also announcing the possible sale of the company to Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg. Regarding the reasons for a sale, Kafka writes “Facebook recently cancelled a deal with Mic to publish a news video series. People familiar with the company say that move removed a crucial source of revenue and scared away potential acquirers and investors.” According to Benjamin Mullin at the Wall Street Journal, Mic officially was sold to Bustle for a mere $5 million dollars, “a fraction of Mic’s valuation less than two years ago.”
What can the media industry promise its writers, editors, producers, when the route to job security is tangled in high-powered deals that resolutely shut them out of the conversation or subscription services promising even more workload to satisfy an attention-deficit audience?
Alex Primiani is senior publicist at Melville House.