It’s been a little over a year since former Wall Street Journal tech reporter Jessica Lessin launched her own news startup. The site, aptly called The Information, provides niche content for tech and business professionals alike.
But in an era when online content has never been more abundant or accessible, Lessin is doing things a little differently. To stand out in a highly competitive and oversaturated market, the niche news site’s founder and editor-in-chief is keeping it simple: Just create really good content. In order to do that, she’s flipped the digital news model on its head.
The Information is a subscription business. For $399 a year (or $39 a month), Lessin and her staff deliver highly specialized, top-notch reporting on the relevant tech and business news for which her audience is so hungry. Before you balk at the price, she assures that the fee is well worth the money.
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“Plenty of people are paying, and thousands are paying us, and way more than that are paying many, many other publications out there from the Wall Street Journal, to the Financial Times, to Bloomberg,” says Lessin, who’s used to hearing naysayers criticize the subscription-based approach.
“When I hear that philosophy, what goes through my head is that people aren’t building products or services that are worth paying for; but if you do, the audience is absolutely there,” she adds.
Prior to launching The Information, Lessin earned her stripes covering the tech industry for nearly a decade at the Wall Street Journal. But it was the changing media landscape that ultimately nudged her to go her own way.
“Amid all this news about tech and coverage of tech, we felt there was still this lack of in-depth reporting on news and information that was really valuable to business leaders globally who had a real thirst for information,” says Lessin.
She attributes much of her success to the fact that she strayed from the traditional digital news model, which is heavily dependent on online advertising. Lessin says this approach can be a slippery slope that ends up prioritizing pageviews over quality of content.
“I think that works for some kinds of content, but has sort of created a huge imbalance in the types of content out there,” she says.
For Lessin, understanding your audience is a critical component of a successful subscription-based publication. Zeroing in on a niche market has allowed her to hire journalists who have been in the trenches and are experts in the field. The subscription model also allows more flexibility for compensating reporters accordingly.
“For us, it’s really about going and finding the stories that wouldn’t be written and aren’t being written, and making sure that they’re getting out there and getting to people who find them valuable,” says Lessin. “There are so many wonderful journalists that are really motivated by that, and we’re trying to be the best place for them to do what they love.”