What worker-owned outlets charge for paid subscriptions

I looked at 14 outlets to see what they're doing.

It’s time to turn on paid subscriptions…but what should you charge?

You’ll want to factor in your costs, the value you bring and also what other similar publications are doing.

It’s a lot to consider so we’re kicking off a little series on pricing, beginning with “what’s everyone else doing?”

I looked at 14 worker-owned publications to find out what’s most common.

I also went through a little data from Substack, Ghost, and Patreon which are supporting thousands of creators backed by subscribers.

Here’s what I learned about how worker-owned outlets are pricing their subscriptions

When considering pricing, I wanted to understand both the actual cost and the way it’s being positioned to the reader. Below are patterns I found from the 14 outlets I reviewed. The data is here if you want it line by line.

How many tiers to offer

Three tiers is the most common set up.

  • 8 of the 14 outlets are offering three subscription tiers

  • 3 of the 14 outlets are offering two subscriptions tiers

  • 2 of the 14 outlets are offering one subscription tier

Research on choice architecture has shown 3-4 choices to be the max amount someone can decide amongst quickly. Tools like Ghost and Substack have designed themselves around that.

This does not include annual subscriptions. All the outlets referenced here offer their tiers with both monthly and annual payment options.

What to price the tiers

The lowest starting subscription in our set was Flaming Hydra’s $3/mo which seems to me severely underpriced given the amount of writers involved in it.

The highest starting subscription was The Colorado Sun at $11.99/mo. The Colorado Sun is journalist-founded but is also a nonprofit organization and they carry a staff of 27+ people.

Most of the outlets are starting their tiers between $5-8/mo.

Patreon backs this range up and says lower is not always better:
“Membership pages that offer tiers starting at $3 or $5 actually convert more fans to members than those starting at $1, and the average member pledge on Patreon is $7 per month”

Ghost notes that “most newsletters fall into the $5-15 per month range” but they also cautioned that they are often “priced too low because creators undervalue their work.”

Worth noting that there are Substack creators charging hundreds of dollars a month for specialized information.

How to position pricing

Pricing psychology is a whole field of study on what causes people to react more positively to one price versus another. Katelyn Bourgoin and her newsletter on Why We Buy is a great shortcut to digging through that research.

Here’s a few pricing psychology tricks I noticed outlets using:

1) Defaulting to annual subscriptions
Default action is take the path of least resistance so the first thing you see is the first thing you’ll consider. Defector defaults to annual subscriptions and you have to toggle back to monthly. They also said in their last annual report that over 80% of their subscribers were on annual plans so it seems to be working.

2) Price anchoring to a higher price
Commonly used by department stores running sales, price anchoring shows a higher price before a lower price so buyers believe they are making a smarter choice. The Colorado Sun uses this on mobile devices where they bump their middle tier to the top of the page and mark it “Top Offer!”

3) Using odd numbers
The left-digit effect is responsible for so many prices ending in .99 and due to so many marketers evangelizing this as charm pricing (prices ending in .95, .97, .99), the number 9 is one of the most popular digits in pricing. Eight of the outlets I looked at used odd number pricing either with left digit effect ($6.99) or rounded up ($7).

So what should you price your publication at?

I’m going to share some considerations in the next issue of this newsletter but in the meantime, the Ghost blog on this is really good.

I would also note that while pricing psychology and being in range with your peers should factor in, price is not the reason people are subscribing to your publication. It’s not about them “getting a deal” or needing something urgently. It’s about them feeling connected to what you’re doing and wanting your work to exist. Pricing for journalism is more about giving your reader a sense of contribution to your mission.

Welcome to this new venture called Journalists Pay Themselves. I’m Lex Roman, an indie marketer whose spent her career growing and monetizing audiences for tech companies. Now, I work primarily with creatives. With the rapid decline of journalism jobs, I’m looking into how I can be useful to journalists navigating the business side of going independent. As I examine what worker-owned outlets and indie journalists are doing, I’m sharing my findings here with you.

If you’re a journalist running your own media company, even if it’s just you, I’d love to chat with you. Reply here or email me at lex(at)lexroman.com

—Lex (@betonlex)

👀Keeping eyes on…Twitter vs Everywhere Else

Twitter retains its hold on breaking news unlike any other platform despite the degradation in search, filters and blocking functions. Journalists seem keen to jump somewhere else but that singular place is not yet emerging.

Mastodon is never going to be a popular favorite due to its technical limitations.

Threads makes us all weary because of Facebook’s years of wrongdoings and because of their recent suppression of political content on Instagram.

Bluesky seems to be the most promising contender for journalists to land, given that they’ve steered clear of controversy so far (aside from Jack Dorsey’s involvement) and it’s the most Twitter-like. I wonder if it has “Clubhoused” itself though and missed its moment by fumbling the invite only blockade for too long.

LinkedIn is emerging as a “inside business” sort of space for outlets, but it does not functionally replace Twitter at all.

No verdict yet. Until then, we have to steer clear of rogue blue checkmarks.