Over the last few years, the future of journalism and print publications has been facing uncertainty, with big names such as Buzzfeed, Meredith, and Verizon Media cutting back on staff and costs.
To maintain their financial future, many online publications are switching to a donation model to future-proof their content delivery.
While some publishers are putting up paywalls and using subscription models, others just ask for contributions from their readers instead.
This helps keep their content accessible to more people and allows readers with more funds to cover the costs of producing and delivering content.
A donation model can work better than paywalls and subscription models since readers don’t have to commit to a regular payment to keep up-to-date with content.
Introducing a donation model over a subscription/membership model can also help build trust with readers since distrust of the media is a big concern for many people.
Before we look at how you can use donations to raise funds for your publication, let’s take a brief look at the subscriptions versus donations debate.
It’s becoming increasingly common for publications to ask readers to subscribe to read their content. Sometimes, it’s possible to view a specific number of articles before this kicks in, but often, readers will need to subscribe to read any content. This is a transactional relationship, whereas a donation model is deemed to be a charitable one.
Medium charges a monthly or yearly fee for members to read an unlimited number of stories on their site:
The Atlantic offers an ad-free subscription option:
With the subscription/membership model being rolled out by so many big-name publications, is it a viable move for their smaller counterparts?
Some research suggests that using a subscription model can alienate readers. According to research from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report, the risk of “subscription fatigue” is high, despite the success that some well-known publications are achieving.
Smaller publications often struggle to achieve a sizeable subscription base, especially if people are being asked to subscribe to several publications to read their content.
Research suggests that only 12% of people will subscribe to receive news content if they also had to pay for other subscriptions. Crucially, those that are willing to take out a paid subscription tend to be earning more and highly educated.
Pro tip: If your publication decides to implement a paid subscription model, you can use software to highlight the income and educational background of your supporters. This can help you see whether it’s a viable futureproofing channel.
Here’s how The Correspondent is working around the issue of “subscription fatigue,” with a pay-what-you-want approach to subscribing:
The downsides of introducing a subscription model can mean that a donation model is more feasible for raising funds.
A donation model has these benefits:
The Guardian newspaper (UK) has adopted a voluntary contributions model. Some readers make regular donations, while others continue to read for free.
Here’s an example of the message that readers see when viewing their content:
Crowdfunding is an option for publications that have yet to get off the ground. It can cover some of the upfront costs associated with starting up a publication, which can be high. This is a significant hurdle for many new publications before they even put out any content.
How does crowdfunding work? People make pledges in exchange for rewards or perks. For crowdfunded publications, the main reward is the opportunity to access the content if adequate funds are raised.
Additional rewards can be added too and these don’t need to be linked to content. They could include merchandise, for example.
A tiered reward system can encourage people to increase their donation amount. This can be done by “upselling” them on the benefits of making a larger pledge.
It’s an ideal opportunity for publishers to gauge the level of interest in their content before they go ahead and create it.
Producing high-quality content is highly significant. Donors are likely to not give solely to support your publication. They are like to donate if you’re consistently producing unique content that keeps them engaged.
Producing content that resonates with donors is also key. Drawing on their interests and passions can be important here.
A few more tips for securing donations and crowdfunding pledges:
Pro tip: With Donorbox, you can attract more recurring donations for your publication. Donors can choose to make regular contributions instead of one-off donations, and they can cancel whenever they choose to.
These online publications are using the Donorbox platform to accept donations and gather donor data:
Truthout asks for one-time or regular donations from readers to continue their mission to put out “people-powered journalism.”
To create bias-free content, they don’t sell advertising space on their website and don’t receive corporate financing.
HonestReporting also asks readers for a one-time or monthly donation. They can choose from the pre-filled donation amounts or make a donation amount of their choice.
Free Spirit Media provides a platform for emerging content creators to make their voices heard. On their donation page, they offer pre-filled donation amounts for readers to choose from and also allows a custom amount to be donated.
Lawfare allows donors to choose how much they donate, rather than suggesting amounts to give.
Adopting a donation model can help online blogs and publications to survive and thrive in a changing media landscape.
Many publishers are finding it hard to secure adequate advertising income but are seeing success with using donations to fund their work.
It’s not only journalism outlets that are doing this — technology publications are also venturing into donation models.
Here at Donorbox, we’re helping publications accept donations for their content, which can go a long way towards securing their survival.