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Politco Charges Thousands for Subscriptions: A Sign of Hope for Newspapers?


Newspapers are struggling to innovate as circulations crumble: Every major pub from USA Today to the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal is experimenting with bringing its print readers to the Internet through paywalls and subscriptions, iPads, and Kindles. The biggest puzzle they're trying to crack: How do we get users to pay for content in the digital age?

Beltway bible and Most Innovative Company Politico is taking a novel approach in an era where consumers are unwilling to drop a dime on news coverage: charging thousands of dollars for subscriptions. Called Politico Pro, the service is aimed at marketing what the publication does best: second-by-second coverage of politics, 24 hours a day. The service will focus on health care, energy, and technology, with "coverage at the microlevel of what Congress, federal agencies and trade associations are doing," reports the New York Times. Subscriptions will begin between $1,495 to $2,500 annually for each topic, and cost $1,000 for each subsequent topic.

It appears Politico has found an audience for its hyper-specific coverage. While many news pieces may not appeal to Washington outsiders ("Lights are out throughout much of the Longworth House Office Building, a denizen tells me. UPDATE: They are back on," read one item), it's clear Politico isn't aiming for a universal audience. Its now-famous 4:00 to 5:00 a.m. newsletter Playbook, run by the notoriously inexhaustible Mike Allen, is read by some of America's most influential people, and alone brings in an estimated $780,000 a year. Politico Pro will continue to aim at influentials, charging Congressional offices $1,495, and lobbyists and government contractors $2,000, for subscriptions. Its homepage,, which will remain free, provides more mainstream coverage and attracts some 7 million unique users monthly.

"There is a perception that this market is overserved, when we actually think it’s underserved," said Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico. "I sort of liken it to 2006 when people said, ‘Why would we need Politico, coverage is so saturated?’ The idea is that we want to find multiple revenue streams so we can grow even bigger."

Take note, struggling newspapers.

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  • AB27

    Either Politico is doing something this article doesn't mention or the article is poorly researched. I have nothing against Politico--it's a valuable new source full of exceptional reporters. But to say charging premium subscriptions for targeted content is a silver bullet for newspapers is completely innaccurate. There are a number of politically targeted newspapers that market their content to Trade Associations, non-profits and Congress in this manner already. I can't imagine that Politico expects Sally Jo down the street to pay a premium for micro-targeted news on obscure health care legislation filtering through blah blah blah committee. They are converting news to a trade mag for political professionals and it's nothing new. Their business model in general may be energetic and adventurous, this is the oldest DC media trick in the book. What Politico is going to great lengths to do is overtake Roll Call and The Hill as the preeminent news source on the DC Scene and this is just one more step in overtaking the market. Like VandeHei said, they want more revenue and this is a proven way to get it. But don't compare this to the New York Times pay wall--it's simply not the same.

  • AB27

    "Beltway bible and Most Innovative Company Politico is taking a novel approach in an era where consumers are unwilling to drop a dime on news coverage: charging thousands of dollars for subscriptions."

    I don't think there is anything new about offering deeper coverage of more specific issues, nor will be a model that will save newspapers. Politico went about building an image, gaining clout and now they are doing the same thing other politically targeted newspapers in this city are doing--selling the content they already have to trade associations, non-proftits, and Congress, not average citizens. There is nothing new about it except that it is the first time Politico is using an old model to make new money. This business model has nothing to do with the average consumer.