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Here's how I described the concept in a post I did just after we announced the launch of Prime.
We arrived at $50/year price through a good bit of traditional market research and analyzing our own budgets and what we thought was necessary. Another part of it though was that we wanted a price that would get the job done but also be a relatively easy lift for the great majority of our readers. Not that $50 is nothing but it's something most people can manage and feel good about if TPM is an important part of their news consumption and a site they visit multiple times a day.
That said, we know that there are some readers, some of our most devoted readers, who simply won't be able to afford that amount.
I'll give you an example. Back when TPM was a much smaller enterprise and I did a few straight fundraisers from readers (2005-07) I'd not infrequently get checks of say $5 from someone who apologized that they couldn't give more but they were on a fixed income. As you can imagine, when I held those checks in my hand I felt a mix of humbled gratitude and, honestly, a bit of guilt. If $5 is really as much as you can manage you should hold on to your $5.
At some level, what we can do about this is limited. We're a for profit company. We need to bring in revenue and prices have their logic. But we think we've come up with a way to square this circle.
When we were coming up with that $50 price point we knew there are a lot of successful, affluent readers out there who could just as easily put in a payment for $100 or $150 as $50. And frankly, if that's you, we'd like to give you the opportunity. But how to square this with a pricing model that makes sense for a for-profit membership model? Well, we think we have a way.
If you make a nice living and you'd like to support TPM because you believe in what it does, we'll offer extra subscription credits. So you join for the standard $50 dollar membership fee but you decide you want to do more to support what TPM does, you can buy, say, two additional memberships for another $100. We'll assign them to readers we think genuinely wouldn't be able to manage the subscription price and they'll be able to become part of TPMPrime.
We're not going to get all college financial aide forms about it. That would get ridiculous and isn't anything we'd be able to manage. We'll ask for some basic confirmation but there will have to be some level of honor code involved. But we'll make it work.
It's a win-win for everyone. If you'd like to buy more than one membership, I guarantee you the money will not go to waste. We've got reporter salaries, office rents, travel budgets. A whole lot of expenses go into running this operation. And we'll very precisely assign those subscription credits (good for one year, just like the rest of them) to other members of the community who might not be able to join otherwise. We think it accomplishes several important goals at once and says something very in line with the ethos of our whole organization.
That was the idea. But for a complicated set of reasons, we were not able to build the back-end to do this before we launched our new publishing platform in mid-September. Now we can, however. And with that new publishing platform, Prime is finally the product we wanted to be (and on a path to being a lot more). So we're tentatively planning to have subscription credits available for purchase in the second week of December.
We're going to couple this with a drive to build up our membership base - both for new members and also subscription credits to grow the number of total site members. More on this soon.