Quartz has introduced its first-ever paywall product, a cryptocurrency newsletter. The company’s chief product officer has told The Drum that this is just the beginning of Quartz’s journey pursuing paying readers.
The media brand was sold to in July to Japanese media intelligence company Uzabase for between $75m and $110m (reportedly depending on Quartz's upcoming revenue performance). At the time, Uzabase suggested it would apply its expertise courting subscribers to the publisher.
Founding editor Kevin Delaney said at the time: “We expect the biggest source of growth in Quartz’s next chapter will come from reader revenue… We expect our existing products to remain free but are very focused on also providing premium content and services alongside them."
Now with the Quartz Private Key newsletter, the media brand hopes to rally paying customers around the fiercely debated topic of cryptocurrency. It is charging subscribers $15 a month or better-value $150 a year for a newsletter that will be distributed to subscribers at a frequency of twice a week.
Crypto is such a hot subject that The Next Web launched a bespoke crypto sub-brand called Hard Fork earlier this year – instead of a paywall, it adopted commercial partner in trading social network eToro.
In 2016, Quartz earned $30m in revenue, the bulk of this was generated by ads. If it could scale up its paid subscription business, it could greater reduce its reliance on ad-funding.
Zachary Seward, chief product officer and executive editor of Quartz, told The Drum, that he is unsure exactly how many people will be attracted to the company’s first paid product and was unwilling to share any internal targets it had set.
Given the company has no point of reference for paying customers, he said the newsletter will serve as a closely scrutinised experiment for the brand’s future paid efforts. These will “be a large area of focus and growth for Quartz over the next several years”.
As a result, Quartz is at the research and testing stage. It is gauging the temperature of its audience with regards to subscriptions and has chosen to embrace the financially-focused, niche market of crypto to get started. Furthermore, user feedback will be a keen guide on how the Quartz Private Key takes shape. This is all in aid of “creating a strong process for bringing paid products to market”.
At this stage, the company has room to maneuver on a paid model. “We plan to quickly learn what is and isn’t working and adjust our approach from there," Seward added.
He believes that Quartz is already well positioned to launch paid-for reports and emails – especially crypto which it said it has been covering since 2012. In particular, he pointed at Quartz story ‘The lives of bitcoin miners digging for digital gold in Inner Mongolia’ as an example of what may appear in the newsletter.
For Quartz, it made sense to trial payments on that product. “It seemed like the best way to reach this particular audience on a regular basis,” Seward said.
“For other paid products, a website, app, email, or all of the above might make sense.
“Readers will pay for quality intelligence on a hot topic that’s hard to understand. We know there’s an appetite for this content, and we have done extensive research that indicates a strong need for an in-depth research product about the crypto market."
He concluded: “Readers won’t just getting slightly better content—they’re getting meaty emails with lots of novel analysis, written in a way that's easily understood, from an entire team of experienced reporters who know a lot about the space. We looked at all of the competitive products out there, and we think we have the best-in-class product at our price point.”
Quartz editor-in-chief and co-president, Kevin Delaney, told The Wall Street Journal that cryptocurrencies remained an “opaque” subject and outlined that it will benefit from stringent press coverage. He added: “It’s surprisingly difficult to find clear and useful information on the web.”
Here's how the company is pushing the new product on social.
If you had time to sift through all the misinformation and rumors, you might be a coin billionaire by now. Luckily, we’re the smart, busy person’s trustworthy guide to the world of #crypto.
— Quartz (@qz) August 28, 2018
ComScore reports that Quartz has attracted an average of 11.67m readers a month in the US this year. With a substantial international presence and the possibility of Uzabase helping it press into Asia, this figure is likely much healthier. Of course, it only needs to convert a small proportion of its readers into paid subscribers to reap the benefits.
With Quartz staff now involved in Uzabase’s own NewsPicks English language offerings, expect to see each brand more closely interlinking in the future."