The Atlantic Revamps Its Subscription Model with Metered Paywall
New model includes price increases and subscriber benefits, two years after last overhaul
Last week, The Atlantic announced changes to its subscription model, two years after its last overhaul. The magazine’s newest digital subscription strategy includes slightly increased prices to its tiered subscriptions plans, starting at $49.99 a year for a one-year, digital-only subscription plan. For $59.99 a year, subscribers will receive print and digital subscriptions. For $100.00 a year, subscribers will receive print and digital subscriptions plus an ad-free experience, a complimentary gift subscription to share, discounts on the magazine’s products, and VIP access to Atlantic events.
Students and educators are eligible for a 50% discount. In addition, the magazine has implemented a metered paywall that will allow readers to view five articles before being asked to subscribe. There is no obligation, and subscribers may cancel at any time. Upon cancellation, their refund will be pro-rated.
In a letter to readers, editor Jeffrey Goldberg asked them to support 162 years of quality journalism with subscriptions.
“From the very first issue—cover price 25 cents—our magazine has relied on readers who recognize the value of ideas; who believe that rigorous reporting, critical thinking, independent analysis, and beautiful writing are things worth cherishing,” wrote Goldberg.
“To ensure that The Atlantic has a bright future, we are today introducing a new digital-subscription service. The Atlantic turns 162 in November. My dream is that the steps we take in this period—a difficult one for our industry, as you no doubt know—will guarantee that our magazine will celebrate its bicentennial as a flourishing and indispensable creator of the world’s best journalism,” Goldberg added.
Goldberg promised additional changes including a fresh look, new digital experiences and platforms for stories.
“The Atlantic has always been dedicated to ideas that matter, and we are committed to making our work as indispensable to you as your support is to us,” Goldberg said. “This is the start of our next 162 years. We hope that you will join us on our continuing adventure.”
In a memo to staff, Michael Finnegan, president of Atlantic Media, explained the new subscription strategy.
“This change represents something far bigger than charging for unlimited access to our journalism. It’s about redoubling our focus on building deeper, more continuous, more integral relationships with our readers. We aim to do more than publish and distribute some of the best reporting and storytelling in the business. We want to become an indispensable part of our readers’ lives,” Finnegan wrote.
“We believe that our product is right for the market, and for the moment we’re in. First, people have already been paying for The Atlantic, for nearly 162 years. But second, we know from extensive research that there are distinct qualities readers value in our journalism. They appreciate how we constantly strive to uphold our founding promise to be ‘of no party or clique’—and how our arguments often challenge their preconceived ideas about the world and run against the grain of popular wisdom. They turn to us to sharpen their perspectives and develop their expertise. They see us as a refuge of remarkable prose,” added Finnegan.
To get to this point, Finnegan explained that teams at The Atlantic have been working hard to design the right digital subscription strategy for the magazine which included adding resources, expanding staff and preparing to offer deeper, wider coverage for their loyal readers.
“The Atlantic has been fortunate to find audiences—and partners who want to reach those audiences—throughout our history. We now need to find many, many more readers who want to regularly engage with and ultimately pay for our journalism. That won’t be easy, but we have all of the raw ingredients and infrastructure to make it happen. Each of us, though, has to own the whole. The Atlantic will only thrive to the degree we all make sure it does,” Finnegan said.
The Atlantic’s last major overhaul was in September 2017, when the magazine launched The Masthead, a $100-a-year premium membership. At that time, its print and digital offerings ranged from $24.50 to $34.50 a year. Its new pitch is slightly more expensive, but reasonably priced for those who value the quality of journalism The Atlantic offers.
The lesson here is that The Atlantic designed a membership program they thought would create sustainability. Judging by the launch of a new subscription strategy just two years later, it seems the last idea didn’t quite pan out. However, we appreciate that they tested and then pivoted to something they felt would be more successful. This is a smart play, and one other subscription companies – particularly publishers – should take note of. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.