How this political news site generated a thousand paying subscribers

Ben Cohen, founder of the Daily Banter

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. He settled on charging between $3.99 and $5.99 a month for memberships.
  6. 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.
  7. 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: