This is a follow up on my April 3rd post about how TPM is holding up amidst the COVID-19 economic crisis. Before I get to that, here’s an update on what I shared with you back on the 3rd. I told you that we were setting up a system to allow readers to support our work above and beyond the cost of your Prime or Prime AF membership. Well, here it is. Click here and we welcome your support at whatever level you think appropriate and whatever level you are able. We truly appreciate it.
We promise you that we will put it to good use. These contributions will all be earmarked for the TPM Journalism Fund. For every increment of $50 we receive we will create a free membership for someone who cannot afford a Prime membership or for a registered student. (More detail on this below.) As I mentioned on the 3rd, we had been workshopping and building this new system for six months to a year and had scheduled its launch for mid-March. We slightly delayed the launch and have slightly retooled it for this new reality. Prior to the COVID19 crisis, our promise was to use these additional FIN (Future is Now) funds to add new reporting capacity to TPM, to turbocharge TPM reporting. With this new COVID19 reality, we will use it either for that purpose or to cover revenue shortfalls tied to COVID19 as they arise.
If you find our work important and want to helps us remain vital and hopefully expand our ability to report news, please consider it.
Now to our status a month into this crisis.
The good news is we are basically where we were when I last updated you, which is to say cautiously optimistic that we will be able to navigate this crisis in one piece, which puts us worlds ahead of most of the rest of the journalism business, especially independent publications.
As I told you, memberships are now the core of our business model, accounting for 75% to 80% of our revenue. This is all recurring memberships, plus people who purchase Community Supported Memberships which we distribute to people who can’t afford a membership and to registered students (full time or part time). These programs have existed for years – since 2013 for financial need gift subscriptions and since 2017 for FIN subscriptions for registered students. What I described above just consolidates these programs together and makes it easier for readers to buy in and support us. Like I said, we want to turbocharge TPM’s reporting capacity because like the tagline says: the Future is Now. There’s critical reporting to do right now that won’t wait for our ability to grow our business incrementally over time.
My colleague, TPM Publisher Joe Ragazzo and I continue to watch the membership numbers like hawks. To date we have seen no deterioration in those numbers. Nor have we seen any evidence that we are paying a financial price for putting all COVID19 content (which now accounts for the overwhelming amount of what we publish) outside the Prime paywall. (I’m proud to say we were one of the first publications to do this.) Since the crisis started we have seen a small but real increase in our membership numbers. So that is great. And that’s the sheet anchor of our stability.
Advertising remains 20% to 25% of our revenue. (I said 20% in my last update. The 20% to 25% basically accounts for possible success in ad sales over the course of the year – something that now seems highly aspirational.) The advertising market remains incredibly soft, to put it mildly. So that is our most immediate vulnerability. Still, since we’ve dramatically reduced our reliance on ads over the last half dozen years our exposure to that whirlwind is limited. The rapid deterioration of the ad market is what is forcing layoffs at so many other publications and shuttering some entirely. It’s very real and we’re seeing it every day. We saw continued deterioration since I updated you on the third. But just recently we’ve seen what may be some stabilization at a considerably lower level. If that holds, that’s great. We’ll keep you posted.
So as I said, so far so good. Our company philosophy is always to have four or five contingency plans at the ready to deal with unexpected developments. Joe and I continue to work on at least four or five. One of those is building up the TPM Journalism Fund as much as we can. But we have several others. None of them includes laying off any staff or making any changes that significantly impact our ability to do the news gathering and reporting work we currently do.
Obviously we can’t rule out what might be forced on us in truly catastrophic scenarios. But as we’ve discussed with our team, we are cautiously optimistic/confident that TPM will navigate this storm. And in this case we mean not just TPM as an abstract entity but everyone who currently works for the organization.
So that’s the update. So far so good. We continue to make contingency plans in the recognition that any major economic downturn will certainly impact us, maybe a little or maybe a lot. But so far so good. If you’d like to support us above beyond your current subscription, here’s the link to do so. If you’re Prime subscriber and would like to get something cool in exchange for sending us a few more bucks, you can also upgrade to Prime AF. Just go to your account link in the pull down menu at the upper right. No ads ever and a much faster site. As I said, we promise that we will use all contributions for a mix of adding additional editorial staff and/or plugging budgetary holes created by COVID19 Crisis revenue shortfalls.
As always we thank you for your readership and your support.
- -Hiring More Journalists
- -Providing free memberships to those who cannot afford them
- -Supporting independent, non-corporate journalism