Ben Cohen launched the Daily Banter in 2007 so he could blog his (left-of-center) political opinions. But what started as a hobby eventually grew into a robust political site that boasted several contributors and upward of a million unique visitors per month.
Cohen was able to generate a sustainable income from this traffic via display advertising, but that income would fluctuate widely month-to-month, often due to the whims of the Facebook algorithm and other external factors he couldn’t control.
So a few years ago, Cohen set out to diversify his revenue by launching a paid membership service. I interviewed him about how he designed his membership and what he did to grow it.
Some takeaways from our conversation:
- The focus of the site has always been on quality over quantity. Cohen avoided clickbait, and this resulted in a much more loyal readership that was more likely to convert into paying subscribers.
- Most of the site’s revenue — between 60 and 70 percent — comes from advertising. Everything else comes from subscriptions. Given that the Daily Banter’s advertising revenue fluctuated wildly month-to-month, Cohen wanted to add more stability to his revenue stream.
- He was encouraged by the success of people like Andrew Sullivan, who managed to get over 30,000 paying subscribers when he launched his subscription site several years ago.
- Cohen tried several different strategies with his membership. He first launched a metered paywall where readers would get a certain number of articles for free. But after some trial and error, he settled on creating a separate membership site where people could log in, and he now produces member-only content for that site while the bulk of his content is available for free on the Daily Banter.
- He settled on charging between $3.99 and $5.99 a month for memberships.
- There was an initial rush of subscribers at the launch of the paywall followed by a slow monthly trickle. Cohen saw another huge jump in subscribers after Donald Trump was elected. In the wake of that election, he wrote a personal appeal to his readership, asking it to help fund his anti-Trump reporting, and it worked.
- Cohen’s team produces about four membership-only pieces of content per week. While the free content is meant to appeal to a broader audience, the membership content assumes a familiarity with the readership and often includes more personal essays.
Watch my interview with Cohen in the video below: