The Information’s Jessica Lessin on how she’s scaling an already-expensive subscription product

By Aarthi Rayapura October 26, 2016

The subscription-only technology site The Information is a niche product, at $399 a year. But now it’s expanding both up and down. Founder and CEO Jessica Lessin announced at the company’s Subscriber Summit last week that The Information is launching two new products: a student edition for $19.50 per month, and an extra-premium product called “The Information for Investors,” which is $10,000 a year.

“We want to have the largest tech reporting team in the Bay Area by next year,” Lessin said in her keynote, saying it’s currently No. 3 after Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. The Information now has 19 people on its staff, including 12 Bay Area–based reporters covering tech.

“We’re profitable,” Lessin said in her keynote. The Information says it has “many thousands” of subscribers but doesn’t provide an exact number.

I spoke with Lessin about the new subscription products, the other ways The Information plans to grow its subscription base, and what she’s learned about hiring. Our conversation, lightly edited and condensed, is below.

LAURA HAZARD OWEN: Why are you launching the new subscription options?

JESSICA LESSIN: We’ve more than doubled the number of subscribers to our core offering over the past year. But we were also hearing a lot from different groups of people about ways we could tie price to value for people who don’t fall in the sweet spot of our core product.The first is students, which I think is so important to the tech industry because so many of the best ideas in tech come from young people, and we have been hearing a lot of demand from students who are interested in subscribing but are just at a different point in their career, where $400 a year doesn’t make sense. We’re offering them that discount of 50 percent. We have been testing it and have already signed up students from 30 different schools, like Wharton, Harvard, and Stanford. We want to bring that community into the fold to comment on articles and participate in our community.

The Information for Investors was also hatched out of demand from existing investors of all different kinds, from hedge funds to VCs to private equity investors. They deeply value information and reporting about tech companies, and they can literally directly profit off some of our scoops and exclusives. But they also told us that they would appreciate more color about what our reporters are hearing. There may be news or analysis our reporters have that isn’t broadly valuable to our many thousands of subscribers, but would be valuable to people who are looking at it to make investment decisions.

We’ll be offering special, unique monthly conference calls for these subscribers, where we’ll share some of the flow of what we’re hearing and reporting. We’re looking for other ways to brief them on news that’s valuable to them, in addition to those calls.

OWEN: You mentioned that the investor plan “starts at” $10,000. Will the price go higher than that in some cases?

LESSIN: Not at this time. I say “starts at” because this is something that we’ll be evolving, but right now it’s just the $10,000 plan.I should note that we’re also adding a ton of new features to our core offering, the $400 level. We do lots of conference calls for all our subscribers.

OWEN: Do these premium subscribers get individual conference calls, or is there just one call for all of them? What are some of your other plans for that level?
LESSIN: It would be one call [for all of them]. We’re also intending to limit the total number of subscribers to [the premium product]. We don’t have a specific number in mind right now, and it probably won’t be relevant in the short term, because we’re just getting it going, but our goal is to have something that is somewhat limited so there is a clear benefit to being part of it.We’re starting with just the conference call and other types of briefings. We’ve gotten a lot of demand for in-person briefings if they’re in town.

OWEN: So back to the core offering: What are those subscribers getting and what new features have you rolled out?
LESSIN: The main bucket is obviously the content: about two stories a day, exclusive stories that people aren’t going to be able to get elsewhere, delivered into people’s inboxes as well as posted online. That’s obviously the most important part.Second to that is the community. That includes the online community on TheInformation.com, where we have an active group of contributors who add comments to articles. We’re doing more to promote those comments. We’re testing a homepage design that features comments from subscribers: The benefit there is sharing ideas with other leaders in business and tech, but also having visibility for your own ideas, which I think is a huge benefit.

The other online component of the community is the Slack backchannel, a Slack team where subscribers [and reporters] can chat in real time about a whole range of topics, from “Are you buying the new Pixel phone or the iPhone” to what people think about AT&T buying Time Warner. [It’s a way to] meet other subscribers, which I think people outside of hubs like Silicon Valley particularly appreciate.

Then there are our events, the offline community. Unlike other media companies, we don’t charge thousands of dollars for our events. We consider them part of the benefit of being an Information subscriber. For that same $400/year, you’re getting the opportunity to go to events like the summit we just had, or smaller networking parties throughout the year.

The final thing is that our conference calls are really a huge draw of the subscription. Articles are very effective at communicating some types of information, but there’s a lot more that you have in your notebook as a reporter, for all of our subscribers we have a monthly conference call where they can not only hear some talking points and themes that they’re interested, but directly ask our reporters questions. They can do that on Slack as well.

We have a podcast that’s really growing in popularity and we want to do more with it.

Read the full interview on Nieman Lab

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