Would you pay to follow a sailing campaign? Here's an idea chasing the holy grail of online subscriptions


Spinning off from recent topics on this blog – how to make ocean racing more interesting and more sustainable to fund – I’ve had this highly thought-provoking and topical email from Alex Bainbridge.

Alex is doing a Mini 6.5 campaign and is looking at ways of funding it by creating a paying following. He writes:

‘Great thoughts [on your blog]. I think the future (in the near term) is to move away from sponsored boats and onto using the web to facilitate direct fund raising from sailors and those with a passing interest in sailing.

‘For example: 10,000 people paying £36 is enough to run a mid-sized boat campaign.

‘Then the question comes down to how you engage people sufficiently that they want to pay the money! The answer there is to mainstream your content production rather than go niche, and use the power of social media.

‘I am using Twitter to keep people informed with what I am doing (see it here) . My aim is to build the story up from all the boring getting organised perspective.’

Getting people to pay for online content is an aspiration for many publishers. Indeed, while I’ve never heard it as policy here, the Daily Telegraph reports our parent company Time Inc’s intention to make internet subscriptions a key part of their business plan .

But what content will people pay for? That’s a trickier one. £36 is a lot to ask for content that has generally been free, and where comparable material will continue to be supplied free.

Making use of social networking would suggest an audience biased heavily towards Generation Y (not yachting magazines, then). Yet those are the very people who expect to get everything online for nothing.

And does social networking not favour whimsical topics, conversational asides and banter quite different from the substantive content that paying readers traditionally place value on?

It will be very interesting to see what Alex launches; it sounds like a very creative idea and I hope it works, not least because it could be a template for others to follow.

In the meantime, if anyone can think of a foolproof scheme that will interest 10,000 people in paying £36 a year (preferably not involving sailing solo across the Atlantic but, hey, open to negotiation!), please let me know. I’ll hand in my notice right now, and you can take a commission.