The state of membership models in Ukrainian media

Ukraine has a relatively young media market. Audience members have yet to develop the habit of contributing financially to digital news organizations. But the coronavirus pandemic has given fresh urgency to the need for newsrooms in the country to find alternative sources of revenue, and shone a light on the value of a two-way relationship with loyal readers.As a result, many Ukrainian newsrooms launched membership for the first time in 2020, or redoubled stalled membership efforts. We at the Membership Puzzle Project and Media Development Investment Fund think this study by researcher Andrii Ianitskyi of Ukrainian membership models in their infancy will be of interest to any newsroom considering questions of how to launch membership to an audience unfamiliar with the concept. It describes what membership looks like in a market where there are few mature examples to lead the way.Disclosure: The Membership Puzzle Project has supported two newsrooms mentioned in this study, ShoTam and The Ukrainians, through our Membership in News Fund. However, the researcher independently chose to study these newsrooms — by criteria explained in the study — and MPP played no role in the research process


 

Ukraine is an Eastern European country with a developing economy and a population of over 41 million people. It has a parliamentary-presidential form of government and a multi-party system. Freedom House rates Ukraine as a partially free country (60 out of 100 possible points in 2021), with an average level of press freedom. [1, 2]Yet despite the large population, the media market in Ukraine is underdeveloped. It was born relatively recently —  about 30 years ago, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And the first independent online media appeared only 20 years ago —  with the beginning of the Internet’s wide-spread use. Therefore, there are simply no newspapers in Ukraine that have been read from generation to generation. Ukrainians have also not developed a habit of paying for content, partly due to weak copyright protection, and partly due to the fact that the first Ukrainian media on the Internet offered their content for free.A 2019 study by the Center for Journalism at the Kyiv School of Economics found that most publications relied on only one or two sources of income. These were either advertisers’ money or media owners’ money. And when advertising revenues in Ukraine fell, as in the rest of the world, newspapers had to look for new sources of income. [3] Subsequently, even before the coronavirus pandemic, Ukrainian media business models did not look sustainable.A few Ukrainian media outlets have experimented with selling their content to readers before. At the English-language newspaper Kyiv Post for example, subscription revenues accounted for 16% of all editorial revenues in 2020, and exceeded revenue from native ads. [4] On the eve of the pandemic, digital subscription offerings were launched by business news site Mind.ua, Novoye Vremya (NV) magazine, and the local newspaper and site network RIA Media. But it seems that only popular science magazine Kunsht and Lviv-based local media site Tvoe Misto tried to develop a membership program (We use readers’ club or just club as synonyms) before the pandemic. [5] Something similar to a membership program, but without strategy and routine procedures, appeared on investigative site Bihus.info back in 2018. Most other media continued without any form of audience revenue strategy.Because of the 2020 pandemic, many Ukrainian publishers were left without advertising revenue, or the support of their owners who were trying to fix problems in their core businesses outside of media. The pandemic has put the challenge squarely in front of the Ukrainian media: either they find new financing models and diversify their sources of income, or they cease to exist.As a result, many Ukrainian newsrooms launched membership programs last year, and many of them are now at a stage where it would be worthwhile to study their progress and seek to make recommendations for other media based on what is and what isn’t working for them.

 

Study objective

We decided to start studying Ukrainian membership models in their infancy. In this study, we have compiled the first database of such membership programs in Ukraine, described them in detail, and highlighted the most successful methods of audience engagement.We also checked if the Ukrainian media follow the recommendations of Membership Puzzle Project and if they have innovative ideas to offer to other member-focused newsrooms. Finally, we looked at how the adoption of membership has impacted the financial health of the media and journalists’ content.Our key findings were:

  • In most cases, Ukrainian newsrooms create membership programs for readers – or readers’ clubs, as they are often called – as an experiment.

  • Publishers rarely do serious research before launch and choose a minimum viable product strategy.
  • Therefore, Ukrainian clubs often do not look like the membership programs MPP has studied in other parts of the world. They can start out as a Facebook group or a Telegram channel, develop as crowdfunding and end with a regular donation system with bonuses for donors. But over time, they take on increasingly clear forms.
  • However, some media use the experience of Western colleagues from the very beginning to inform their membership strategy.

  • We studied two approaches to building a membership strategy – quick and continuous experimentation vs careful planning and preparation – and came to the conclusion that they both have their benefits. Success of the readers’ club depends more on the popularity of the media brand itself, and not on the foundational approach chosen.

“Readers’ Club,” “Community,” or “Friends” — this is what Ukrainian newsrooms call the audience that regularly supports them financially and receives certain benefits in return for that support.  Benefits we saw in Ukrainian membership programs included access to chat with the editorial team, members-only emails, gifts, free access to events, and a sense of contributing to the development of independent Ukrainian journalism.Some of the media organizations we studied do not limit access to the content or promise anything in return for members’ financial contributions. They mostly communicate the importance of the work they do and the impact they have.In essence, Ukrainian “Readers’ clubs” follow the definition of membership developed by MPP: it is a social contract between a news organization and its members in which members give their time, money, energy, expertise, and connections to support a cause that they believe in. In exchange, the news organization offers transparency and opportunities to meaningfully contribute to both the sustainability and impact of the organization. It is an editorial orientation that sees readers and listeners as much more than a source of monetary support. [6]

 

Study scope

We examined the membership programs of 11 newsrooms. These are all Ukrainian media which use the club funding (membership) model except media that have launched their programs in 2021 (Cukr.city, LB.ua, etc.). We considered a site to have membership if:

  • The audience provides regular financial support to the media
  • They have a unique value proposition
  • They offer access to the editorial office (team) and involvement in the mission and impact of this media organization

Membership differs from subscription (audience members pay for access to a product or service), crowdfunding (audience members give a one-time contribution to support a specific project) or donations (audience members give their time or money in support of a common cause or common values). We have not considered media organizations with such funding models. And we also did not include media projects and memberships in the study which were only launched in 2021.We hope that this study will become annual and will be changed and supplemented from year to year. Although focused on Ukraine, the lessons outlined here will have broad applicability to other Central and Eastern European countries at similar political and media inflection points.



 

Research design

The research consisted of two blocks: desk research and field research.During the desk research, we briefly surveyed the Ukrainian media landscape, made a list of all Ukrainian media that use membership models, compiled all relevant publicly-available documents that the media publish on their website to describe the format of the membership program, and created a matrix table comparing different Ukrainian media membership models.In particular, we focused on comparing the benefits that publishers provide to members of their clubs, as well as comparing the cost of participation in such clubs. We became a member of the five largest readers’ clubs, recorded the frequency and channels of communication, tone of voice, and other features of publishers’ communication with their club members.Then we prepared questionnaires for semi-structured in-depth interviews with media representatives (owners, editors-in-chief and community managers) of the 11 newsrooms. We included questions about KPIs (key performance indicators), experiments, mistakes and successes, and the impact of membership on the media’s financial health and content.In total, we conducted 14 interviews (in some cases we spoke with several people from the same media). Each conversation lasted from 30 to 60 minutes and was based on the prepared questionnaire but during the conversation we could also ask additional and clarifying questions.We also conducted an anonymous survey of 107 members of these clubs (in total) to better understand§ their motives for being a member of the reader club and whether they pay for memberships in other reader clubs and for content in general.All information collected during the research was cataloged and saved for further research works.

Mapping Ukrainian membership models

Media landscape

The primary characteristic of the Ukrainian media market is that it is largely owned by  oligarchs and politicians who use their media properties to promote their interests. Most of their influence is exercised via television channels, but online media, which are part of these media companies, are also among the most popular Internet resources in Ukraine (such as tsn.ua, stb.ua, prm.ua). [7]The owners of the four largest Ukrainian TV groups (Victor Pinchuk, Ihor Kolomoyskyi, Dmytro Firtash and Rinat Akhmetov) lay claim to more than 75% of the country’s total TV audience. [3]At the same time, according to a USAID-Internews media consumption survey, in 2020 Ukrainian audiences became less trusting of TV channels with unreliability and biased news highlighted as the main reasons for the lack of trust. [8]Another characteristic of the Ukrainian media market is that it lacks transparency, especially at the regional level. According to a 2021 IMI survey, only 26.5% of regional online media published ownership data on their site.Ukrainian media legislation is also complicated to navigate. Online media outlets are not regulated at all, while traditional television and radio broadcasters operate on the basis of licenses and are subject to stricter regulation by a special National Commission. The Ukrainian parliament is currently discussing a new draft law on media, which should modernize local legislation and adapt it to European requirements. However, local media businesses are resisting the adoption of new regulations, especially online media, which currently operate in a legal vacuum – a situation which is beneficial for many market players. [9]Nevertheless, the Ukrainian government influences the work of the media sector. For example, the authorities have strengthened the role of the Ukrainian language by introducing quotas in 2017 for the use of languages on television and radio.There are also several NGOs in the market that monitor violations of professional standards and conduct media surveys and polls. At the same time, there is no mass and truly influential professional body for journalists in the country. The National Union of Journalists is outdated and takes care of mostly disappearing print media and the once popular Independent Media Union is now in decline.In addition, Ukrainian media are losing the competition for readers to global digital platforms. For several years in a row, Facebook has ranked first among social networks as a source of news in Ukraine. At the same time, 42% of Ukrainians do not check the accuracy of information they consume online, while a quarter do check it.Based on the described picture, launching membership clubs for the media seems promising, but not a priority. During an interview, we heard from the owner of one of the sites that the membership program is still just a toy for them, not a business. And that while this may change in the future, they are now focusing more on traditional sources of income such as advertising and sponsorship.

 

Who we studied

During the desk research, we found 11 newsrooms that met our criteria.Our list includes media with headquarters outside of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv . However, these news sites still position themselves as national. We did not find any local media with a developed membership model. In one case (Cukr.city from Sumy), the membership model was launched in 2021. In another case (Rayon.in.ua from Lutsk), the newsroom created a Facebook group for donors. But so far they are not taking regular payments.The 11 newsrooms we studied were:

  • Ukrainska Pravda is one of the most influential and popular political media sites in Ukraine. It was founded in 2000 by Georgy Gongadze, who was killed for his journalistic activities.
  • Slidstvo is one of the three most respected investigative journalism projects in the country. They specialize in making documentaries.
  • Hromadske is a flagship media project for Ukraine’s civil society. Launched in the wake of the Euromaidan Revolution in 2013-14.
  • Kunsht is focused on popular science for a young audience, IT professionals and activists.
  • The Ukrainians was originally a slow journalism project that expanded into reportage journalism and podcasts.
  • Zaborona is a human rights media project that is not afraid to show vulnerable groups such as national and sexual minorities.
  • Bihus is one of the three most respected investigative journalism projects in the country. Known for its charismatic leader Denis Bihus.
  • Liga is a business media organization with an informative news feed.
  • MC.Today is a media for creators (MC): entrepreneurs, programmers and managers.
  • ShoTam is a media project that publishes only positive news.
  • Texty.org.ua specialises in data journalism and has won numerous awards.

You can find a detailed comparison of each of these newsrooms in this matrix table.

Key features of Ukrainian membership models

Why membership? Reasons Ukrainian media made the leap and how they got started

In all cases, the decision to launch a membership program was made by the editorial board itself, but the reasons varied from newsroom to newsroom. Some did it as an experiment back in 2019 (Kunsht, Bihus), others were forced by the pandemic to act more decisively (Liga). In a number of cases, editorial offices have long-cherished such an idea, but the pandemic became the catalyst for action (Ukrainska Pravda, Slidstvo).In three cases we can definitely talk about the influence of Western experience on Ukrainian newsrooms trying to launch membership. Ukrainska Pravda launched its membership after editor-in-chief of Sevhil Musaieva spent 2019 as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. There she explored the issue of readers’ trust. Her supervisor was Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian. Upon her return to Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda launched a membership program that is slightly similar to The Guardian membership program.In the second case, Anna Babinets, head of investigative project Slidstvo.info, visited the Texas Tribune newsroom in 2019 thanks to the IREX program. Anna was impressed by the level of diversification of media income and the share of direct income from readers. In 2020, Slidstvo.info also launched a readers’ club. Prior to the launch, they hired the Center for Journalism of the Kyiv School of Economics to study membership programs in similar investigative projects around the world.Finally, the co-founder of ShoTam Serhii Kolesnikov consulted with Tomáš Bella from Slovak media Denník N and received the support of many other organizations, including the MPP, as his newsroom launched its membership offeringSome of the newsrooms we studied invested their own funds in the creation of a membership strategy, while some found grants. There was no general rule here. As we learned in our interviews, companies that invest their own money to launch membership move more slowly. They test their hypotheses extensively and experiment more with small groups of readers. This avoids many unnecessary costs, but does not produce quick results.Most of the newsrooms we spoke to used grants to launch/support membership. Newsrooms with grant-supported membership launches tended to do pre-launch research about membership programs from other media or the preferences of their readers, hire a dedicated manager to work with members, and spend more on marketing. But although this approach is more effective in the early stages (for example, the sites we studied that took this approach immediately attracted 100-200 members and formed a community), it does not guarantee future success.We studied both approaches and came to the conclusion that they both have their benefits. The success of the readers’ club depends more on the popularity of the media brand itself, and not on the source of launch funding or strategy chosen ( constant experimentation vs a clear plan after careful preparation).Almost all of the media we interviewed conducted minimal research on audience needs before launch. They said they would like to do more in-depth research, but did not have the resources.In the case of Slidstvo, the company commissioned a study of similar models in Western countries. Ukrainska Pravda and Hromadske hired consultants to launch their clubs. In both cases, the consultants were specialists from the Jnomics consulting company which is the only international media consulting company with a large office in Kyiv (headquartered in London, 55 projects in 32 countries). [10] The popular science magazine Kunsht launched membership with its own money, so it approached the membership launch more spontaneously and more economically.The magazine appeared in Ukraine after the Ukrainian version of National Geographic closed in 2014. The magazine was initially a print-only product and did not have its own website. It launched its website in 2019 and immediately envisioned a membership program.Kunsht’s publishers did not conduct specific research to launch the membership program, but they did carry out 40 in-depth interviews for the launch of the site, where there were several questions about the membership program. By launching the site right away with a built-in readers’ club, they quickly gained several hundred members, and that number continues to grow slower than expected — 5-10 members in a month. They call their membership program Friends.The team has a dedicated person (Friends Community Manager) who is responsible for the development of the membership program. But most of the work for Friends is done by others in the newsroom. Almost everyone in the Kunsht’s team is engaged in membership management in some way: one person creates events, another manages the Telegram-channel, yet another  newsletters. Work tasks in a popular science journal are divided into organizational and editorial parts. Thus, the editorial team is responsible for the content-related aspects of the Friends program (for example, the newsletter), and the organizational team is responsible for organizing events.All these efforts together brought results — the magazine receives 12% of its revenue directly from readers. At the same time, the magazine is constantly growing, so this percentage is changing. “We must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place”,  says Kyrylo Beskorovayny, the publisher.

 

In conversation with the community

As part of the study, we became members of the five largest of the readers’ clubs we looked at. This made it possible to feel the difference in the atmosphere within the community of each media.All the member-focused sites we studied had their own tone of voice and cultivated unique characteristics in their communications with club members. Sometimes this reflected the personality of the community manager, but more often it was driven by the club members themselves. The most active members of the club often influenced the conversation by modeling behaviour. For example, if they make comments or generate ideas for stories, other members do the same.Newsrooms from our research address their readers informally, in an original way, and without language clichés. Most Ukrainian media do not communicate directly with their readers or viewers at all, do not pay attention to them, do not respond to letters. For some, their email address does not even work or their contacts are hidden so far away on their site that the reader cannot find them. The media projects from our study, by contrast, are open to communication with their readers and are responsive to criticism.For example, members of Hromadske are engaged in fact-checking and critiquing materials that appear on the site, and suggest new topics for journalists to investigate. Hromadske has a very active community, which is not surprising, because the media’s primary audience are active citizens. This is not about representatives of non-governmental organizations, but about active citizens – from small business owners to representatives of the IT sector and many other backgrounds.The investigative media Slidstvo has a calmer manner of communicating with its members. It appears to have something to do with what the investigations of this site look like. The editors try to convey information in a more analytical and dry, rather than emotional, manner. We observed the same style in communication with the members of the club.Political media site Ukrainska Pravda communicates with its members in a more didactic and explanatory tone. And in its messages to readers, the newsroom reminds them of the values of the publication and the practical benefits that a member of the readers’ club will receive.Science media Kunsht conducts its conversation in a somewhat light way, using bright pictures and images of dinosaurs. It brings a smile and certainly affects the perception of the media brand. Thus, the editors are trying to appeal to a young audience, and also to those people who always remain young at heart and can sincerely admire the wonders of nature, dream of space, and read science fiction novels.Each of the described media tries to find its own niche, its own special voice for communicating with the reader, its own unique face. At the same time, you feel very keenly whether this is just work for a community manager, or whether they have a sincere interest in their readers. In one case, we observed the rather mechanical work of a manager in a Facebook-group, perhaps due to a lack of time or for other reasons. This manager published the top news of the day and did not respond to comments below them. In another case, the manager was more involved in the discussion with the readers in Telegram, acted proactively, and set the tone for the discussion.It is also important that club members are given a space to provide feedback about the media they support – even if that feedback is critical. In the media organisations we observed, such criticism was received by the media with great attention and interest, and allowed them to change their work for the better. This is a big shift for journalists, who often face hate rather than constructive criticism. But finding constructive spaces to channel feedback from club members is good for the business, while hatred of disgruntled readers only destroys it.

Ukrainian membership program design

Of the interesting ideas that we heard about membership program design during the interviews with newsroom leaders, we can single out the following:

  • Using a symbolic creature or image that personifies the editorial staff (gopher from Slidstvo, dinosaurs from Kunsht or Don Quixote from Ukrainska Pravda), which allows you to quickly convey the main idea of your media and convey emotions.
  • Creating an additional real-world connection with the newsroom through personalized swag, for example, a personalized office plant for the reader, as used by Zaborona, or personalized picture of dinosaurs in Kunsht’s case.
  • Discounts on goods and services, such as books, coffee, tourist trips, legal services and many others.In its most explicit form, this is implemented at Ukrainska Pravda; Hromadske and other media often mention discounts on goods and services too.
  • The ability to save articles for further thoughtful reading (Ukrainska Pravda, Liga) or download articles in a format that is convenient for reading from e-books (Kunsht).
  • Creation of the reader’s personal account showing the entire history of the reader’s interaction with the media (Liga, Kunsht, Ukrainska Pravda). Conversely, other publications advise “not to create something too complicated such as personal cabinets for members or special websites”. The developers of such functions were sure that it was convenient and would be in demand, but practice has shown that for most readers this is too complicated an idea.

In the case of Ukrainska Pravda, members told us that the members of the club are often seeking practical benefits for themselves, more than they are signaling their support for the editorial direction of the site. However, the editor-in-chief believes this variety of motivations means membership can appeal to people with different character types.Some media we studied allow members input into editorial content. Ukrainska Pravda invites readers to editorial meetings and gives them the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions at the end of a planning meeting. When a story suggested by a member is published, they make a note in the publication that the idea was brought in by a member.Ukrainska Pravda said that members had already proposed a few topics for the site that were popular. For example, an article about the famous Barabashovo clothing market in the large Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was read by almost 60,000 people. The idea of this text was suggested by the readers’ club members.At the same time, several managers from other media said that their audience pays for exactly the kind of journalism they do and does not seek to give input into the content. In contrast to Ukrainska Pravda’s approach, Zaborona believes that “everyone should do their job” and that readers pay just to support the kind of journalism that they do. That is, the editorial board does not undertake the obligation to write on the topics that the members of the Club suggest. Newsroom leaders at Texty also felt this way.

 

What membership revenue means for Ukrainian media

Membership money allows newsrooms to be more flexible and creative, close budget gaps, take risks and experiment. Across the 11 newsrooms we spoke to, income from readers’ clubs ranges from 1% to 30% of total revenue. At the same time, different media set different goals for themselves when developing readership clubs. If for some it is an important source of income, for others it is primarily to involve readers in editorial work, increase readers’ loyalty and popularize the brand.Small companies with a clear focus and a clear mission can attract a bigger share of total revenue from membership. Analysis of the data from the matrix table shows that the most successful membership programs in Ukraine are not necessarily launched by the largest media. This does not mean that membership will not work for larger media. Perhaps they are simply still improving their model or not emphasizing membership programs. “In a resource-constrained environment, we spend more time with other sources of income that now look more promising,” explained one large media owner.Membership programs work in online media, but we do not know of a single case in Ukraine where membership programs exist forTV channels or radio stations. In 2017, there was a case when the social and political TV channel 3S.tv, led by the famous journalist Savik Shuster, tried to launch something like a membership program (or rather, sell part of the channel’s shares to a small business). However, the channel soon announced that it would stop broadcasting from satellite for financial reasons. Now Savik Shuster is hosting a talk show on the TV channel of the richest Ukrainian businessman, Rinat Akhmetov.

What we learned amount Ukrainian members

We conducted a survey among club members of the 11 newsrooms in the study. 107 people took part in it. This self-selecting group cannot be considered representative of the members of all clubs, but it does show some trends.We asked why people decided to become members of a club. They could choose several answers from five options and add their own.Key findings from our members’ survey were:

  • More than 95% answered that they became a member because they wanted to support this particular media brand.
  • Only 7% wanted to support a particular journalist.
  • 34% wanted to feel part of a community with shared values.
  • One in four members supports more than one media.
  • Every tenth person supports more than five newsrooms.
  • Almost everyone also pays for video and music streaming services.
  • 88.6% of the respondents were men.
  • 36% of the respondents are from Kyiv.
  • Members responding to the questionnaire were aged 24 to 39.

Almost all media we spoke to noted IT workers and Ukrainians from abroad among the members of their readership clubs. This is a reflection of the economic situation in Ukraine, where only those who earn above average can afford disposable spending on supporting their favorite online newspaper. And it is precisely these two social groups that earn more than the average Ukrainian. (While the average monthly salary in Ukraine is slightly below $500 according to government statistics, the average monthly salary for IT developers is $2500).Perhaps because of the economic situation, men and people from Kyiv (the Ukrainian capital) are most likely to become members of the readers’ clubs we studied. Ranking second after Kyiv are other large Ukrainian cities, where incomes are growing faster, such as Lviv (a large tourist city in the west of the country), Dnipro (an industrial city in the center), Odesa (a port and also tourist city in the south), and Kharkiv (a student and scientific city in the east).It’s possible that in the event of an increase in incomes in a very densely populated Ukraine, member-focused media can expect growth in income from memberships. Thus, Ukrainian independent media are keenly interested in the development of the Ukrainian economy and in the growth of citizens’ incomes. For the same reason, the decentralization reform* and development of the Ukrainian provinces is important. This will allow membership to develop not only in national Ukrainian media, but also in local newsrooms.Researcher’s note: Before 2014, Ukraine consisted of over 11,000 small and dispersed communities. These communities were required to address the central authorities whenever a need for any type of resource arose. With the decentralization reform, communities were allowed to amalgamate into a new level of self-government, elect their own local government, were granted the power to make executive decisions on their own, and collect an important share of the taxes paid locally. Not only did this ensure that income accrued within the community stayed in this community, but it mostly allowed for public goods and services to be provided much more efficiently.

It is also encouraging that mainly young people aged 24 to 39 become members of the clubs we studied. This means that at least during the next 10 or more years, these people will be able to pay for content because they already have this habit, unlike their parents’ generation.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Before launching a membership program, be sure to test your messages in the newsroom: why should members support you? It is also useful for informing colleagues of your plans. Decide which reader-revenue format is better for you. Sometimes you just need to launch a one-off donation campaign, not an ongoing membership program. Launching a readers’ club needs a lot of resources.Conduct a study of your audience. You can hire a research specialist for such a study or use The Membership Guide to guide your own staff through the audience research process.Calculate your business model in advance, set important goals for the month, quarter, year. How do these goals align with your media strategy and your membership strategy? Do you need more members, more revenue, etc. You can use MPP recommendations about making the business case for membership and about developing membership metrics.Seize the moment. Consider dedicating your Club launch to a special event, for example, the birthday of your media. This will draw more attention to your membership program and, accordingly, you will be able to attract more members at the start.Be wary of promising too much swag in your benefits. Otherwise, there is a risk of getting tied up in administrative matters when sending souvenirs by mail or during the production of branded publications. Plus it’s expensive. Do not spend a lot on benefits.  Members will not appreciate your generosity. They don’t give you money for gifts. But bonuses for members without promotion do not work, because no one will know about your bonuses.Membership can only work if you already have a loyal audience, if you are open to  feedback on your work and if the media mission does not allow you to install a paywall. Plus, setting up a subscription usually costs more than starting a membership program. If you don’t have a loyal audience, then it’s best to work on building one if it matches your business model.Regular quality and exclusive content is the secret to building a loyal audience. Do you need to make additional content for members of your club program? It’s not required, but our research suggests it is advisable for Ukrainian media. Вuild connections with the audience in different ways. They have to understand why your media is valuable for them. Good journalism works better to attract new members than good services. Independence, objectivity, unbiased news are more important than you think. People get involved through creative ideas about the importance of supporting independent media that stand for the interests of readers, not owners.Make decisions based on data. Create dashboards with all the necessary information and regularly analyze the dynamics of growth in the number of members, traffic sources, and conversion. Make hypotheses based on data, test them, collect feedback. This should be a test-and-learn mindset with a focus on data. Otherwise, you can do a lot of unnecessary activities that will not help.Do not be afraid of technical difficulties, they may happen at the beginning and it’s normal.Conduct experiments. Be flexible and do not be afraid to try something new. But don’t spend a lot of resources experimenting. Learn how to do simple A/B tests to understand what works and what doesn’t. You’ll never know whether or not it will work if you do not try.Systematic communication works, do not be afraid to repeat. You need to communicate with your audience on different platforms, investing the most time in those that give the best results. Personal communication and posts where you ask for their opinion work best for member engagement.

Conclusion

Successful membership programs in Ukraine seem to be driven by strong, loyal support among existing audiences. That is why the success of readers’ clubs in Ukraine, in most cases, was not explained by which launch strategy was chosen. Ukrainian publishers have yet to go beyond the audience that they already have.The bad news is that membership money is not of particular importance to all Ukrainian media. If you are a TV or radio station with a large staff, then most likely the membership program will not be a priority for you. Conversely, if you are a small niche media, then the club program will fill your budget gaps and keep your audience loyal.The good news is that as Ukraine’s economy grows and the prosperity of its citizens grows, readers’ clubs will become more effective. For the same reason, independent online media have a vital stake in Ukraine’s economic success.


 

Andrii Ianitskyi (Ukraine) is a former journalist and editor with more than 15 years’ experience working in Ukrainian media. He is a former chair of the Kyiv Independent Media Trade Union and the author of the chapter on Ukraine’s media on Medialandscapes.org –  a media mapping platform from the European Journalism Centre. Currently, Andrii Iantiskyi is the Head of the Centre for Journalism at Kyiv School of Economics.