BuzzFeed has always looked for new ways to make a buck, and today we see two extremely different examples of this. First, after months of quiet trialing, BuzzFeed News is making its membership program official. Instead of implementing a paywall (which would be very un-BuzzFeed), the company is instead asking people who enjoy its journalism to show their gratitude with money.
Meanwhile, quietly in the background, BuzzFeed is also reportedly looking into a digital media merger of epic proportions.
The subscription details works like this: Members can either pay $5 each month or $100 a year. In return, they get added to an exclusive email list with curated content, as well as a tote bag (if they pay the $100). BuzzFeed adds that the tote is “limited edition.”
BuzzFeed’s journey to this new revenue stream is certainly interesting. It began as one of the most successful websites to cash in on the digital ad boom, perfecting the art of listicles and other click-able content. Then when pivoting to video was in vogue, it pivoted with reckless abandon. And now that the future of media monetization is murky at best, BuzzFeed is following the latest trend, which is straight-up asking people to give it money. Of course, in an increasingly tight media ecosystem, new revenue streams are increasingly necessary.
In a memo to staff, global news director Lisa Tozzi said that she does not “expect it to be a huge portion of BuzzFeed’s revenue in 2019.” But the company hopes that, over time, it can build up this program to be a more significant player. Tozzi was unclear about what exactly would be offered as the year goes on. “We’re going to be testing different messaging and marketing which you will see on buzzfeednews.com and across other platforms and continue to consider member benefits or perks as the program develops,” she wrote.
With memberships implemented, BuzzFeed is also considering even more dramatic steps. The company is reportedly looking into potential mergers with other large media companies–such as Group Nine, Vice Media, and/or Vox Media, reports the New York Times. The talks are supposedly still very preliminary, but CEO Jonah Peretti was very candid about the possibility.
The idea behind the merger would be to create a publishing juggernaut that could play hardball with the likes of Facebook and Google. It’s a pretty sweeping idea, one that would inevitably make it even harder for smaller journalistic enterprises to compete.
For the time being, BuzzFeed News is now just asking for membership funds. While it may be offering this content to paying subscribers, it’s not considering drastic measures that other media companies are taking up. Tozzi wrote, “no–this is not a prelude to any sort of paywall.”