Subscription models come in all flavors — hard paywalls, meters, memberships and even “micro-memberships.”

That’s the route being tested by Hearst’s Esquire, which has built a $17.99 annual membership program around politics writer Charles Pierce, who has written for the magazine since 1997. The annual subscription grants access to all of Pierce’s stories — on average he files three to five pieces per day — a weekly newsletter written by Pierce that provides a historical deep dive into a piece of news and, of course, a tote bag. (The paywall kicks in on the third story read in a month.)

“There was an obscene amount of people, like 60,000 per day, that were visiting his stories,” said Michael Sebastian, editor-in-chief of Esquire. “It got us thinking that we should build the membership program around Charlie.” 

Since launching the micro-membership model in November 2018, the site has garnered over 10,000 subscribers, and Sebastian expects that the election year will drive up that number even higher. Additionally, in October, Pierce’s content was up 60% in views year over year.

While only two conference calls have taken place so far following the Democratic Party presidential debates this past summer, Sebastian said that he anticipated a few dozen to call in, but the two calls ended up yielding over 800 sign-ups. 

“We haven’t noticed any drop-off in traffic at all, and I think it has a lot to do with his stories being widely shared,” said Sebastian, who explained that when Pierce’s posts are posted to Facebook or other social media platforms, people coming across the content there are still able to click-through and read them since the membership product currently operates on a metered paywall with the limit being three articles per month. 

While only two conference calls have taken place so far following the Democratic Party presidential debates this past summer, Sebastian said that he anticipated a few dozen to call in, but the two calls ended up yielding over 800 sign-ups. 


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