The Spinoff has announced the launch of The Spinoff Members, a new venture for the company and a first for a New Zealand media brand.
With the new programme, The Spinoff is inviting its audience to contribute in multiple ways – not just financially, but through regular surveys to direct coverage, advice in areas they hold expertise in and through story tips.
Unlike paywalls, the membership programme has been designed to keep the bulk of The Spinoff's content free to all, without a login. While there are no membership programmes such as this in New Zealand, it is an area of major growth in independent media internationally. ProPublica in the United States, De Correspondent in the Netherlands and Rappler in the Philippines all use similar progarmmes.
The Spinoff founder Duncan Grieve explained why the company chose a membership programme over a paywall in an article announcing the launch.
"We chose membership because it will ensure that the vast majority of our content remains free to access for all, in a clean, well-designed environment with minimal interruptive advertising. Just as important is the relationship it encourages – we want to collaborate with our readers. We also want our best work to impact the maximum possible audience, for both readers and sources."
In the past, the bulk of The Spinoff's income has come from content partnerships, which are clearly labelled collaborations with partner brands. For example, television content on The Spinoff is created in paid partnership with streaming site Lightbox.
While these won't stop, Grieve says it is hoped the membership programme will offer more stability for the startup.
"Like any startup, it has been a ride. There have been multiple occasions when we've been down to weeks of cash to cover wages, and there's every chance we'll get there again. What members allows us to do is have an income stream which is less subject to commercial pressures and allows us to fund different types of work, while also remaining free to all."
Operated by PressPatron, the cost of membership is chosen by users and can be paid monthly, annually or as a one-off payment. If members pay the recommended $8 a month, then within ten months they'll reach the $80 benchmark to receive The Spinoff's new book free of charge.
Also announced today, The Spinoff is launching a book in collaboration with Penguin Random House New Zealand. Edited by The Spinoff editor Toby Manhire, it encompasses both the best of the site's first five years, as well as new and exclusive writing and illustrations from staff writers including Alex Casey, Madeleine Chapman and Emily Writes. As well as being gifted to members, the book will be available to the general public from November 2019.
All members will also gain a new international-focused email from ''The Bulletin' writer Alex Braae. This digest will feature the biggest stories around the world each week, linking to 'essential reads' on key stories.
According to the FAQs surrounding the new membership programme, the money from memberships will exclusively cover staff and support journalism, rather than being used for other purposes such as boosting social media posts. It is also separate to The Spinoff's longform investigative fund – which was launched with PressPatron in 2017 to give readers the opportunity to exclusively support longform investigations. This fund will continue alongside the membership programme.
The closest example of a similar model in New Zealand is Newsroom Pro – a paywall which offers readers 24 hours of exclusive access to articles before they are made available to the general public. At subscriptions starting at $6.70 per week, Newsroom's paywall differs from the New Zealand Herald's as the latter never makes premium content available for readers. Newsroom also runs a PressPatron to enable people to make monthly, annual or one-off donations of their choice to support quality New Zealand journalism.