Indie online publishers see print premium for members

The Knight Foundation is supporting the membership program at the Voices of San Diego, which includes a print premium publication. The publication itself is enabled very cost effectively by MagCloud, an online service that facilitates magazine printing on demand

Scott Lewis, CEO of the Voice of San Diego, explained on the Knight Foundation blog why the Voice is launching a print publication.

“The on-demand magazine allows us to repackage stories and offer it for those who appreciate a print magazine or a digital version for their iPad, yet we’re spared the costs of a traditional publishing system….

“We’ve been recognized for years for our investigative reporting and analysis. Recently, though, we analyzed our own service and determined we needed to be clear that the operation’s success depended on the involvement of a vast community of members and sponsors. This grant from Knight Foundation is helping us establish that community,” said Lewis.

Magazines have been used as a membership perk for decades by organizations ranging from alumni groups to trade associations. NPR is a great example of a media company that has used membership magazines as an amplified guide to programming. NPR’s publications also provide an additional advertising channel,  extending the reach of the radio station to a print audience.

The Voice’s  print premium mirrors the use of publications in the public media, association and nonprofit worlds.

Traditional premiums are high quality yet affordable and tied to an organization’s mission. Online publishers who deliver specialized reporting in print are building on their extensive expertise and can plan to reserve some special reporting for subscribers. That means the premium costs the price of printing and some reporting hours. A rule of thumb for print premiums is that the membership fee should far exceed  publishing costs.

Done right, a print publication premium — through its uniqueness — makes a member feel like they are part of a special club.

The Voice’s print publication meets these requirements:

  1. It has a logical tie-in;
  2. It delivers the highest perceived value for a low cost;
  3. It requires periodic replacement, providing an additional touch point with the reader.

Another indie online publisher using print is  The site published its first ad-free, broadsheet newspaper in June 2010. Lila LaHood, CEO of the San Francisco Public Press, is distributing copies of  their Summer 2012 — issue No 7 — print news publication this week. LaHood said she prints 8,000 copies at a cost of $3,220. The newspaper is a 16-page, four-color broadsheet and pages are 14.5 x 22 inches.

Here’s what members of the BlockbyBlock world had to say about publishing a print publication.


Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on  and on twitter at saduros.

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