A Media Ownership Model: Why Subscribe When You Can Invest?

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Imagine this…

Dark Star, a publication, produces articles. Those articles can be purchased as NFTs, at any point in the ideation -> writing -> editing -> published lifecycle. There are two tiers of access to those articles: As a ‘Reader,’ for $10 bucks a month, I get to read all of the published articles. But as an ‘Investor,’ for $20 bucks a month, I get a share in the sale of the NFTs. As an investor, you have transparency as to what is being created and what the benefits are as a token holder of that NFT.

Can you see that future?

Over the past few years, as subscriptions have made a comeback, media companies have spent about 90% of their resources towards building and maintaining subscription models around content and about 10% experimenting with tools and features that provide benefits to their subscribers.

The majority of thinking for expanding value for subscribers is to expand verticals, coverage and genre. When actually, the subscriber is most interested in the particular voice, often niche, that the publisher provides. Scale is no longer horizontal, it’s vertical, and value is found in the depths of niche vs. the expansion of topics. The opportunity for content expansion is less about hiring, acquiring and monetizing a new topic and more about collaboration with creators and media companies that are already trusted in that topic. But that’s for another essay.

Instead of focusing so heavily on content expansion, creators and publishers need to be thinking about building features they can provide their most loyal customers-- the subscriber. The goal should be to have subscribers identify directly with the creator and feel invested in their work. They should feel value in the environment the creator is building outside of the content itself, through community, collaboration and participation. These features and tools should enable that, which makes loyalty and retention as a functioning utility vs. a sentiment.

There are a ton of ways to do this, the most popular is tiered membership for subscribers based on how much and how often they pay. Premium subscription tiers aren’t new, in fact, most legacy publications leverage this. But the problem is, 90% of the value is tied to more content. On new platforms like Substack, they take it a step further with subscription tier options tied to the content & the creator relationship; pay monthly for content, pay annually for content, pay $XXXX for a mystery tier. Now these mystery tiers or founding tiers as some call them, are often unknown, but the assumption is that creators will provide subscribers with products outside of the content itself that bring value and new benefits. This can include community products on discord, exclusive access to Q&As, a direct line to the creator... basically, similar to what The Information does today.

But what's amazing with Substack that's under discussed is that subscribers actually do feel like they're investing in creator success. They subscribe for the content but also because they want that creator to continue doing what they do. There's just no financial association with that success.

I wrote an article a few weeks ago about how media companies could think about evolving to an ownership structure--

“This new media structure will be wholly owned by the creators, operators and consumers themselves. It will be a product of both the public and its producers and will not limit participants to a single company. These media companies can be looked at as collectives, with their own identities, where creators and consumers are encouraged to flow interdependently throughout various collectives. All of which results in everyone investing in both the development of each collective and sharing in the value of the collective’s upside.”

Mirror, the platform that this article is published on, is implementing this structure for writers today. John Palmer pioneered this model when he launched his $ESSAY project last month and on Sunday, Mario Gabriele and Jack Butcher launched the crowdfund of their project $GENERALIST. The details of this model are described and executed in both of their projects, as it relates to the creators, the crowdfund and the community as investors. Taking it a step further, I see this as an evolutionary model to the media's subscription business.

Today, as seen through John, Mario and Jack’s work, these are project based. The creator crowdfund's for the project, in return they give the community members $tokens. The project, once completed, is minted to an NFT and then all $token holders get a fixed percentage of the total amount the NFT sold for. In the scenario dreamt up above, this moves from project based to publication based. Each month, token holders get allotted more $Darkstar and since each piece of content is minted as an NFT, the returns are everlasting throughout the duration of the publication.

There is a lot that needs to be done in the evolution of NFT’s, creator DAOs and alignment with the media business’ current comfort level. But as we move towards a world that is more creator direct, subscribers should have the opportunity to literally invest in their favorite creators and share upside in their success. As seen above, it’s already happening today, so we’re not too far off from this reality.


thx to Jonathan Glick for his eyes on this piece.

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