Moore: Shake each money tree (e.g., you), but harder

October 5, 2011

As publishers try to cope with a feeble ad market by wringing more money out of readers, the membership model is gaining interest.

Declan Moore

Companies like Atlantic Media, National Geographic, and Condé Nast are exploring models that would offer a combination of their print titles and other perks or services like research or special access to events or product sales. “We are all looking to raise [average revenue per user], or in our instance, [average revenue per member],” says Declan Moore, president of National Geographic Publishing….

It’s not often we find a quote that encapsulates one of National Geographic’s biggest strategic errors, but Declan Moore’s statement comes close.

By trying to boost average revenue per member, he wants to shake each money tree (you and me) even harder — instead of trying to cultivate a bigger, lusher forest (more members).

Imagine two scenarios:

#1: The National Geographic Society has only one member — an eccentric trillionaire who wants his monthly copy of National Geographic magazine printed on paper gilded with gold leaf, all bound beneath a cover studded with rubies and diamonds. He also wants the Magazine — and a box of Godiva chocolates — hand delivered to his estate each month by John Fahey, National Geographic’s CEO and Chairman of the Board. Our hypothetical trillionaire pays his annual dues — $1 billion — which keeps NGM humming. And Declan Moore’s metric — average revenue per user —  is off the charts, which makes Declan smile.

#2: Our Society has 100 million members, each of whom pays only $10 per year. Total revenue is also $1 billion, but “average revenue per user” is very low.

Declan dreams about Scenario #1.

We dream about Scenario #2, where more people come to our party — enabling our Society to give its members more while squeezing them less.

What would draw people our way? The collective buying power of the Society’s (still) very large audience. The excitement of a story that welcomed people as participants. The pride of being part of an organization that promoted freedom, human rights, and democracy. And the realization they could accomplish more together than they can accomplish alone.

Remember our exchange with John Fahey in 2006? The key take-away, paraphrased:

Q: Does the word “Society” have any value to you when you market National Geographic? Or is the word just a vestige from the old days that gets in the way?

John Fahey: It mostly gets in the way. Nobody wants to belong to anything. People just want what they want. 

How can you increase the National Geographic Society’s membership when you see the world this way?

John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society


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