Why I picked it up: Paying for news. What on earth does that have to do with museums? And membership? Bear with me. Since museum members often purchase membership for the benefits … the product … it is a lot like purchasing a subscription. If the content isn't there, they won't join or renew. I suspect there may be takeaways for museum membership programs. So I dug into the American Press Institute's report.
Note: I did not focus on where they go to find news (especially the digital vs. print argument), but instead on why people do (or do not) commit to a subscription.
What you need to know: News subscribers are paying for (and renewing for) quality content. Poor content = low retention rates. Thus, if your museum membership program has low retention rates, the problem is likely your content, not your membership program. (Or, if a children's museum, they really did age out … but children's museums should still be seeing renewals while children are young.)
The Nitty Gritty: First, take these numbers with a grain of salt, as I think they skew rather high (for why, see below for my rambling note on data source/methodology). That being said …
The researchers divided their sample into three rough categories:
While rates of museum membership and visitation are nothing like this, I think we can draw conclusions if we think of members as "subscribers," casual visitors as "news seekers," and non-visitors as "bumpers." For this purpose, however, we should also mentally think of that potential fourth category, perhaps the "disengaged," which would likely be a third-to-half of a sample and include individuals who just never think about museums at all. (Sorry to discourage you, but better to be realistic.)
First, the subscribers. What motivates them? Primarily, a belief that the news is important to be an informed, better citizen. These words, as well as their cousin "knowledgeable," come up a fair amount in my research when I ask museum-goers why they visit museums. So a parallel is there (even if more people find the news more useful to this outcome than museums).
Additionally, a fair number of news subscribers want to support quality journalism … particularly younger adults as a third of subscribers under 50 cited this (versus only a quarter of those 50 or older).
When it comes to what news organizations they support, there are three reasons (in descending order):
Essentially confirming the last point, they found that the majority of subscribers felt that the news was a good value, and that "the value people put on the news they pay for is a reflection of attitude, not other attributes." I agree, and I suspect museum members do too … dropping membership when it is no longer producing that same value for them or their families.
And then there is sharing the news. This was interesting.
Younger adults subscribers are more likely to feel that being informed gives them something to discuss with family and friends, both in real life and on social media. To be honest, aside from the in-museum experience, we don't spend a whole lot of time focusing on this in museums. How do museum visitors talk about their visits with others in their daily lives?
For this study, however, the research shed more light on social media patterns. News subscribers (of all ages) are more likely to share news content. This makes sense on a few levels:
They went on to say:
"So contrary to discounting social media as part of a subscription strategy, the opposite may be true. Engaging with one’s most loyal consumers on social media, the data suggests, is an important way of expanding one’s audience by having loyal users share and endorse a publisher’s content. In effect, publications should work hard to empower their subscribers on social media to become their ambassadors and marketers."
I suspect the above is true for museum members (which suggests prioritizing content-driven social media in shareable ways is a good priority to have … but you probably already knew that).
Now, the non-subscribers. Bottom line, the news isn't as important to them. Some seek out free sources (and don't feel a need to pay because they can find enough for free to suit their needs). Others don't seek it out at all (and I think this is a bigger percentage of the population than the research suggests, see my rambling note on data source/methodology for why).
To some degree, age also matters, with non-subscribers 18 - 34 twice as likely as those 65 and older to say they are not interested in the news (I wouldn't have categorized these as "bumpers," but as the "disengaged").
But those "bumpers …." what does interest them? My read of the data is that content that is about them. They are far less interested in national or international news, but compared with news seekers they are more interested in news about their hobbies, lifestyle, and interests. A representation of narrower, more personal interests that I see in my research as well, especially in terms of more extrinsic learning motivations and lower levels of engagement with the world among those who don't visit museums at all (or only very rarely). Reaching them, when it comes to the news, seems to be primarily by word-of-mouth, and I bet it is no different when it comes to museums and those with limited intrinsic motivations to learn.
Implications: The report makes the case for specialization and expertise. That providing great content is key to engaging the audience … and making them subscribers. This brings a few thoughts to mind:
Read or skip? Skip. I covered what you need.
A rambling note on data source/methodology: API partnered with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. A very reputable source for research and top-notch methodology.
That being said, there are two things to keep in mind.
Full citation: American Press Institute. "Paying for News: Why people subscribe and what it says about the future of journalism." Published May 2, 2017.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.