For the past nine years, the nonprofit magazine Next American City has produced award-winning journalism covering urban development. But awards don’t pay the bills, and putting out a print magazine is costly, particularly in the digital age. That’s why today, Next American City is ditching the dead-tree edition and implementing Forefront, a paid digital-only subscription that delivers one in-depth story straight to the subscriber's inbox every week.
"We wanted to do something that had a kind of rhythm and specialness," says editor-in-chief Diana Lind, who adds that the strategy was inspired by non-journalistic subscription models like Birchbox, a service that sends beauty/lifestyle products to members each month. "It’s like once a week you’re excited to open up your inbox."
While one story a week may not sound like much, anyone with a Read It Later account knows nothing piles up faster in the reading list than longform articles. Lind says the new strategy will help alleviate a sense of content overload by both cutting through the noise and allowing more time for reflection between articles. "We felt like there was an opportunity here to give people an in-depth piece that might sustain them for a week and drive conversation that particular week."
For Lind, the shift is about more than simply cutting costs or providing new revenue streams. It’s about seizing on what she sees as the next trend in online publishing: paid content. "Being an early adopter makes a difference. Next American City didn’t have much of a blog until 2008, which was really late in the game. If we had been blogging since 2003, we might have built up a larger online audience. And I think right now paywalls are starting to become normalized. Paying for content is going to only continue, so getting onboard sooner rather than later makes a lot of sense for us."
Lind may be right: A recent Pew study forecasts the number of digital news subscriptions to nearly double this year. And by monetizing what it does best and delivering its content in easily digestible packages, Next American City stands a good chance of succeeding over publications whose idea of a subscription strategy is to simply slap a paywall on their site and hope for the best.
Forefront subscriptions cost $17.88 a year, while non-subscribers can purchase individual stories for $1.99 apiece. In addition to its weekly features, Next American City will continue to publish less-in-depth content daily.
[Image: Flickr user Roey Ahram]