Vox is launching a subscription program as news publishers scramble to diversify revenue streams

Vox is launching a subscription program as news publishers scramble to diversify revenue streams

Vox is preparing to celebrate its 10th birthday — making major changes to its business model that reflect the way digital news publishers are rushing to grow as they are increasingly starved of referral traffic and advertising revenue.

Not only will Vox launch a revamped website on Tuesday morning to mark its 10th trip around the sun (fear not, the trademark yellow won’t go away), it will also launch a membership program, its executives told CNN Monday, as the digital publisher becomes the latest news channel to use subscriptions to diversify and grow its revenue stream.

The subscription program — which will cost $5 a month, or $50 a year — will give members access to a variety of exclusive content, including a newsletter, digital magazine, monthly bonus episodes of “The Highlight Podcast,” live virtual audio recordings of the program, interactive video interviews and many more.

“It’s very important to diversify our revenue and business model,” Swati Sharma, editor-in-chief and publisher of Vox, told CNN by phone Monday. “We have to be strategic.”

While the site and its content network will continue to remain free to readers, its new members-only program is an addition to Vox’s existing content and will be the only programming behind a paywall. The outlet will count revenue derived from subscriptions as an additional stream, with publishers opting for a hybrid model consisting of multiple forms of revenue, including advertising and grants.

Sharma said building a members-only level for Vox’s loyal fans was a natural step after successfully soliciting reader donations, which the outlet has been doing since 2020. In those four years, it has received more than 100,000 donations, Vox Media head of user revenue Priyanka Arya told CNN .

Now, with members-only benefits aimed at attracting customers, coupled with the hiring of Bill Carey as executive director of membership, the digital publication hopes to strengthen its relationship with readers.

“We’re betting on people who care about news organizations,” Sharma told me. “But I think it’s a gamble worth taking.”

The move could not come at a more critical juncture. News publishers are navigating challenging terrain, and many have had to endure painful layoffs in recent years, including Vox. The rough seas have become more difficult with the rapid advancement and use of artificial intelligence. Not only has Meta turned its back on news publishers, but Google, which so many outlets have come to rely on, announced last week it would infuse its dominant search engine with A.I. The move has sparked concerns that referral traffic to the news channel will slow down.

“It worries me, and it should worry everyone in journalism,” Sharma said.

The dire situation has made creating a direct pipeline between news outlets and audiences more important than ever. This is likely why so many major newsrooms have signaled that they will, in one way or another, create and/or strengthen subscription models that include members-only content to supplement other revenue streams.

Looking ahead to the next decade, Sharma told me he wants to see Vox identify solutions to some of the biggest problems plaguing the world, expanding its coverage on issues ranging from climate change to gun violence to loneliness. Sharma emphasizes that while it is important to cover such important issues, it is equally important to offer readers a way to go by being empowered with steps they can take to help improve society.

“Vox is an incredible bet to make,” Sharma said. “It offered something very specific at the time, which still resonates … Vox pioneered the explainer format and that’s everywhere today.”

“We have clarified the news,” added Sharma. “The next step is to shape the world.”

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