Rewarding paid subscribers. What are the right perks?

Three fresh ideas on how to get more people paying you

Why would people become paying subscribers of your work?

There’s a careful balance of how much content you give away for free versus what gets gated for paid subs.

On one hand, you want your articles to be discoverable. Journalism is often done as a public service, so the idea that you’d put this insightful info together and then paywall everything is counterintuitive.

But also…you need to get paid.

How much do you really have to incentivize this?

You’ll have a faction of people in your audience who will want to support your work—almost like a donation. They just want to keep seeing the writing, hearing the podcast or watching the videos and they don’t care if it’s all free to other people.

You also have a set of potential paying subscribers who might need a little coaxing. An exclusive perk that creates a reason to pay.

We’ve seen a lot of examples of this perk over the years. The New Yorker tote bag. The members only Discord channel. I even once had my name etched onto the new KCRW office wall as a member reward.

Let’s say you’re not that interested in doing any of those run of the mill perks. Maybe they’re too costly (merch), too time-consuming (communities) or too unoriginal. I’ve noticed some publications are breaking from the pack on this lately so I’ve pulled together three examples I think are worth considering if you’re exploring this.

404 Media, Millennials Are Killing Capitalism and Normal Gossip (Defector)

Three worthy ways publications are rewarding subscribers

1️⃣ 404 Media’s “we’ll help you file a FOIA request”
How they describe it: “Access to ‘404 FOIA Forum,’ a community where we listen to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ideas, and teach you how to file effective requests”

Why it’s worth considering: It’s insider information that’s hard to get. Most people don’t know they can file requests for info from the government and increasingly as more people are incarcerated, hurt or killed by government actions, more people want to know how they can get their hands on stuff that may not necessarily be deemed “newsworthy.” 404 is creating access for citizen journalists in addition to their professional peers.

See it for yourself: Go to 404 Media’s FOIA Forum Archive

2️⃣ Millennials Are Killing Capitalism’s community study group
How they describe it: “The MAKC X Tip of the Spear Study Group will be kicking off on April 17th at 7:30 PM ET. We will meet weekly on Wednesdays - probably for about 9-10 weeks. We'll go through the book chapter by chapter and discuss it collectively 90 minutes at a time.”

Why it’s worth considering: It’s a limited run perk so it’s a community play but not one that signs them up for endless labor. It’s also a real time series so they’ll get to know their subscribers face to face, building more loyalty and connection with them. Lastly, they included an invitation that subscribers contribute to the group by facilitating or taking notes, which is very much in line with their audience’s interest in decentralizing power and also helps offset their effort on this.

See it for yourself: In their Twitter thread

3️⃣ Normal Gossip’s “be the guest” lottery
How they describe it: Become a Friend and get an “entry into the lottery to BE THE GUEST of each monthly subscriber episode.”

Why it’s worth considering: Like many podcasts, Normal Gossip is creating bonus content for paid subscribers. Using the subscribers as part of that content potentially makes that content easier to create. It also gives them a reason to ask for the upgrade to a higher tier. If bonus content is not doable, this type of reward could be folded into work the team was already planning to release.

See it for yourself: On the Defector website

It’s already plenty of work to create a publication worth reading. Ideally, journalists wouldn’t have to add a bunch of extra labor just to get paid for it.

I’ll keep paying attention to the factors that motivate subscribers and to unusual ways outlets are encouraging reader support. Will report back when I have more to share.

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)

—Lex (@betonlex)

👀Keeping eyes on…Substack

Substack always seems to be stepping in it and I know the journalist exodus from the platform has long been underway but this week Jeanna Kadlec had a popular thread on why Substack’s move towards followers (and away from subscribers) is harmful to writers. Creator Kitchen’s Jay Acunzo had a good post about it too. For what it’s worth, I’m hearing a lot of publications excited about Ghost.