Publishers focus on high end subscriptions

Jim VandeHei raised a lot of eyebrows at the Code Media Conference last week when he declared that subscriptions to his new venture, Axios, would be pricey to the tune of $10,000 a year. “When I talk about subscriptions, I’m not talking New York Times subscriptions,” VandeHei said. “I’m talking high end.”

VandeHei and Axios are not alone in betting they can fetch big money for subscriptions — at least ones that can be corporate expenses. At the beginning of November, the Wired Media Group, which includes Condé Nast-owned Wired, Backchannel and Ars Technica, launched a $4,000 annual membership program; Business Insider’s research division, Business Insider Intelligence, charges $2,495 for all-access memberships, and B.I.’s parent company, Axel Springer, has been treating it as core to the business, growing membership nearly 40 percent in the past two months, to 7,000 total members; 18 months ago, the Wall Street Journal launched the CEO Council, as well a number of pricey, invitation-only groups targeting CMOs, CFOs and CIOs.

What all these efforts have in common is a rejection of the scale publishing model that’s premised on amassing giant audience numbers and then making money off ads. That model has proved to be wanting in a time of spiraling prices for standardized ads — and when so many publishers can boast giant audiences.

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