Ideas on membership-funding of newspapers

Further to my previous post about the NY Times considering selling memberships to help fund its journalism, Steve Outing at Editor & Publisher today posted some useful ideas on how to entice members with more than coffee mugs, t-shirts and tote bags.

Here are some of his most innovative and promising ideas, in my opinion:

* Every newspaper member gets exclusive discounts from a large group of participating newspaper advertisers. Rather than the anachronistic printed coupon books that have been around for decades and are sold for fund-raisers (in Colorado these are called Gold C Books and sell for $10), allow members to use their mobile phones to show retailers, restaurants, etc. their discount coupons after entering their password. This eliminates the problem of leaving the coupon or coupon book at home, since most of us carry our cell phones everywhere. A special app for smartphones could identify nearby discount deals based on your current location, or be browsed or searched.

* Advertisers should be persuaded to take part in the member discount program as part of their overall ad deal with the newspaper and its digital services, so there’s a wide variety of discounts and deals to be had.

* Consider deals with groups of restaurants, or ski areas. A paying newspaper member can get one free meal (when another is purchased) once per month at a selection of participating restaurants, or one free ski lift ticket per month. If our hypothetical newspaper membership is only $10 a month, it’s a no-brainer that you buy a membership if you like to eat out or ski.

As Outing points out, the key to making memberships work is in offering value. If people won’t pay for online journalism directly, perhaps they can be persuaded with discounts on other things they buy.