We’re launching a brand new membership programme, inviting readers to support new journalistic endeavours and help shape our editorial direction.
Today The Spinoff enters a new era with the launch of The Spinoff Members. It will support our growth in a way which ensures our work remains free to all, while also allowing us to expand into areas which are extremely difficult to fund. Critically, members will have a voice in shaping our evolution – telling us which areas of coverage matter most to them.
The proceeds from every dollar contributed by members will be devoted to creating new, high-impact New Zealand journalism. Members can pay as much as they can afford, but anyone who contributes $80 or more a year will also receive the first copies of The Spinoff Book, a project we announce today in collaboration with Penguin Random House New Zealand – more on this further down. All members will also gain access to a new weekly email from Alex Braae, the author of our acclaimed daily news digest The Bulletin, wrapping the week’s key international stories.
We will be encouraging (though by no means requiring) our members to engage in an ongoing dialogue with us, with members surveyed regularly about the issues they’re most concerned about. If you would like to join up, please do so here – or read on, where I’ll explain why we’ve made this move.
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Before the internet, journalism was largely funded by advertising, across all mediums. With the rise of Facebook and Google, the vast majority of online advertising now goes to the social and search giants, and newsrooms around the world have shrunk or closed in the past decade. Even lavishly-funded online startups like Vice and Buzzfeed are laying off hundreds of staff, and major New Zealand operations are worth a fraction of what they once were.
As a result there are far fewer journalists covering a world which is increasingly complex and fragmented, and publishers have been searching for business models which might allow them to sustainably create work of consequence. Many other news organisations are putting up paywalls and restricting access to their journalism. Up until now, we have funded our work with content partnerships, but today we launch a major second strand: memberships.
The difference between subscriptions and memberships
The New Zealand Herald has recently erected New Zealand’s first mainstream paywall across much of its content, a decision we admire and is right for their business. There is no one perfect model for media, and paywalls will be a major part of the future of media. Yet they are not right for everyone.
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.
The membership programme has grown out of our Longform Fund, launched with PressPatron in 2017 to facilitate longform and investigative work. That has enabled multiple major stories, spanning everything from abuse in church and media to uncovering fraudulent businesses. It has also provided the inspiration for The Spinoff Members. Today we fold that fund into our new one, which will continue to produce investigations, while adding a wider scope and specific member benefits to those who join the new venture.
The Spinoff is different to many other media organisations. We are entirely independent and wholly New Zealand-owned. We consider ourselves a magazine for the digital age, not always racing to break stories, but striving to analyse what they mean, embrace complexity and nuance, while also having a strong sense of humour and balancing the serious and absurd.
We publish a more diverse range of voices than most media, and are comfortable advocating on issues, especially where we consider a section of society’s interests as being marginalised within a debate.
This was what drove the ‘War for Auckland’, ‘rent week’, our election coverage and more. That is also why one of the first new roles we will seek to introduce – with the backing of our members – is a specialist climate change reporter, to regularly confront the signal issue of our time.
Our current model – of content partnerships with commercial and governmental entities – makes certain forms of journalism easier to produce than others. If successful, The Spinoff Members will allow us to significantly expand our coverage, empowering our team to work on the toughest stories – including sensitive topics that are impossible for us to sustainably fund otherwise.
We want to listen as much as we speak
Membership of The Spinoff is about funding great journalism, but it’s also about contributing to our work in other ways too. We will lay out a range of options that we’re weighing for use of member funds, along with open fields for things that haven’t occurred to us. We’ll survey members about what they do and don’t like about our coverage, and evolve where we’re able. Listening to our core audience has always been central to our work; now we will have a group of members who can act as a giant advisory committee, helping guide us into the future. (It should be noted that this is entirely voluntary – you can contribute as much or as little time and money as you like, though of course the more of each we receive, the more we’ll be able to do).
Some things won’t change
From the start we have sought a genuine engagement with multiple viewpoints. There are some issues we consider settled – we believe no one’s humanity is up for debate, for example, so anyone bringing hateful ideologies won’t get play here. Yet smart solutions to social issues can come from all sides of the political spectrum, and we will continue to represent different views even if some sections of our audience dislike the messenger at times.
Importantly, the fundamentals of our commercial business will remain, too. We have got this far thanks to the support and belief of a range of partners, from large entities like Kiwibank to smaller businesses like Unity Books. We will continue to work with existing and future partners, creating world-class content and helping employ the 20 full-time staff who make the Spinoff happen every day.
The hope is that our members will, in time, become our biggest client, one with which we’re in a constant dialogue to hone new areas of work as a group.
Members will know what it is they make happen
We will report annually on how we have spent member funds, and make our plans for future endeavours clear at the same time. It’s important to note that membership income will be treated differently from our commercial income, and devoted to hard-to-fund journalism that we will choose together.
More on the book
The Spinoff Book is coming in November, and will compile the best of our first five years, along with a bunch of new and exclusive work from our staff writers, along with illustrations from Toby Morris. It’s out in bookstores and online on November 5th, and will retail for $38. If you want to get the book first and join Members, then simply donate $80 a year or more. All who do so will get the book free. What’s more, the first 500 who sign up at the $80 level will also receive a limited edition tote and sticker.
Here’s what our brilliant publisher at Penguin Random House New Zealand, Claire Murdoch, has to say about the book. “Speaking as a gigantic fan of the Spinoff, as well as the book’s publisher, The Spinoff Book is everything I could possibly want: Great new writing and favourite pieces from the (frankly, astonishing) first five years of Spinoff-ness from staff writers and special guests, all cleverly edited by Toby Manhire, and not short on colour – literally – with great new illustrations throughout from Toby Morris plus plenty of stills, collages and exclusive photography. And chips. It’s a genuinely engrossing, powerful, original take on what matters in New Zealand right now.”
It’s been a huge amount of work the past few months, particularly for its editor Toby Manhire, ably assisted by Kerryanne Nelson and Catherine Woulfe. We’re so happy to see these two major projects announced on the same day, and deeply intertwined.
The financial reality driving The Spinoff Members
When we started, a little less than five years ago, we had no idea what The Spinoff would become. It was two of us in a room, with a single sponsor – shout out to Lightbox – and not a lot more than a desire to write fun, engaging posts about television. Now we have more than 20 staff, a custom-built podcast studio, over 130,000 followers across various platforms and millions of views on our stories and shows every month. We have done this without a cent of outside investment, boot-strapping ourselves all the way to where we are today.
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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.
Our growth has been down to the work of our contributors and staff, the eyes and engagement of our audience and the financial contributions of our commercial partners.
From today, we add a new way of funding our work. It contains promise and risk, like most things worth doing, and we have no idea how it’ll turn out. But there are things we’ve long wanted to do that we have never yet been able to, and without your help we likely never will. We also see the clouds gathering and bursting elsewhere in the world, and want to do what we can to ensure that some of the malign influences impacting other democracies have light shone on them should they rise in New Zealand. That’s why we’re here today, asking for you to join us at The Spinoff Members, and see where member-funded journalism can take us.
So if you value the Spinoff and want us to keep doing what we’re doing, while adding more again, please consider becoming a member.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.