How to start, manage, and fund a paid membership program #makerbusiness

Craig Mod runs a paid member program called Explorers Club. And while you might otherwise find him making podcasts of binaural soundscapes recorded while on long walks, he took a break from the outdoors to write an in-depth post about the financials and logistics of running a membership program. The concept isn’t totally foreign — his setup isn’t so different from a Patreon — but he produces a variety of material and most of it is available for free regardless of if you are a member.

Membership includes:

  • Access to the members-only Inside Explorers newsletter, including past archives
  • Access to the members-only “Pop-Up Walks” archive (currently only 1 walk as of Jan 2020)
  • Digital copies of my books Koya Bound and Art Space Tokyo
  • Discount codes to buy the physical edition of Koya Bound (which saves you $30) and discounts on all future books
  • A pack of ten high-res walking-in-Japan wallpapers for your phone
  • Access to members-only “office hours” I hold when visiting cities
  • First dibs on tickets to events / talks / workshops I’m running; free tickets to events I’m speaking at when possible

Available for free is:

  • Ridgeline weekly newsletter — using walking as a platform to explore the world and run publishing experiments
  • Roden monthly newsletter — books, design, photography, literature, and Japan
  • On Margins podcast — the stories behind designing and producing books (4 episodes in 2019, 7 scheduled for 2020)
  • SW945 — Binaural ambient recordings along historic paths in Japan
  • Long form, meaty, strange essays, both on and elsewhere

Because much of the content Craig creates for the Explorers Club is available for free, the membership is more like a way to support Craig rather than buying content. Again, this isn’t a foreign concept. The membership, in his words, was an attempt to “Formalize my relationship with some of my most fervent readers, and give me an even more robust and sustainable publishing platform.” The logistics of mapping this all out, managing how/what content is distributed, how to charge for it, and how to set this up, makes for a fascinating read. For those who might go down this path, or for those who are interested in this model, there is no doubt much wisdom in Craig’s transparent reflection on his business.

Avoid: Launching the newsletter before the membership program, missing out on initial momentum

Although year one was good, it wasn’t as great as it could have been. I believe there are a number of ways in which I could have more smartly launched the Explorers Club. By far, my biggest screw-up was launching the Ridgeline newsletter weeks before the membership program. I should have launched it in tandem with memberships.

Avoid: Lack of clearly articulated goals and functions of the program

The membership page is much clearer [than it was at launch] and the first screen immediately answers three critical questions: What is being made? What do members get? How do you become a member?

Do: Simplify pricing

I believe member tiers — much like on Kickstarter — quickly become overly complex. The only option I offer for the Explorers Club is frequency of payment — monthly, yearly, or lifetime. Everyone gets the same stuff.

…I believe it’s better to charge more and figure out how to “reach” that value than to charge less. Considering the amount of work a membership program requires, I’d strongly reconsider launching with anything less than $10/mo or $100/year. And depending on your audience, I believe you can charge significantly more. Don’t undervalue yourself….

Do: Give something away

Folks want something for a buck beyond feeling good.

In becoming a member you got some smartphone wallpapers, PDFs of my books, and discount codes to buy physical copies. But, really, you had to be a super fan to even find that on the membership page.

Craig connects this to NPR tote bags, and how offering a small token — and an indicator of your support — can encourage fans and customers to shell out where they might otherwise not.

There is a lot more detail on costs, what to charge,  and member acquisition in Craig’s original post. There is also a quick review of Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fan theory, which is really worth its own article at some point, so stay tuned for that. For now, read the rest of Craig’s post here.

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