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membership economy

The membership economy


Meet Millennia. Millennia doesn’t take a taxi to the airport, she books an Uber ride. She doesn’t buy a novel at WHSmith while she waits for the plane, she loads up the latest instalment of her favourite Wattpad serial on her mobile. When she arrives, she doesn’t head for a hotel: she’s going Airbnb and staying with locals, and she eats at the restaurants recommended by TripAdvisor, not a guidebook, wearing the new maxi-dress she bought off eBay, not the high street. While she’s away, she remembered to find someone on TaskRabbit to look after the garden.

Millennia doesn’t know it, but she’s a poster girl for the sharing economy, enabled and driven by the internet (which is itself of course fundamentally a peer-to-peer network) and disrupting pretty much every industry in the process.

But there’s a new business model on the block, which holds significantly more promise for businesses: the membership economy.

Strategy expert Robbie Kellman Baxter, author of The Membership Economy and my guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club this week, explains:

‘The membership economy is a massive transformational trend that is really transforming virtually every industry, moving from an emphasis on ownership versus access, moving from the transactional to the relationship, moving from anonymous to known relationships, moving from one-way communication to community. All of those things together are creating all kinds of new ways to build business models and, most importantly, to build long-term relationships with your customers.’

In the membership model the assets belong to the company: sharing economy businesses provide the marketplace for discovery and transactions but don’t own the assets themselves. In contrast, Netflix – an exemplar of the membership economy – allows its members to access its own content, rather than giving them a way to share their own films.

A related trend is the subscription model, which has been the cornerstone of library journal and ebook acquisition for years, but membership need not involve a subscription, and a subscription alone is just a way to pay; it doesn’t necessarily imply membership. As Robbie puts it, ‘Membership is a mindset… there’s an emotional component there. A sense of belonging. A sense of building a tribe or people with a connection.’

Given how good books are at stirring emotions and building connections, it’s not surprising that smart publishers are tapping into the power of the membership economy. Small scholarly societies have been doing this for years of course, but more recently initiatives such as Pottermore and Osprey Members have shown what’s possible for trade publishers too.

In an adjacent space, The Guardian has successfully established its membership model as an alternative to the other two dominant models in journalism: paywall and advertising. Guardian membership appeals to the readers’ values (‘fearless and independent’) and sense of identity, and the various levels of membership (supporter, partner, patron) allow a range of price points – how often do publishers allow those who really love what they do to spend serious money with them?

So many of the most interesting initiatives in the world of books use the sharing model, driven by the passionate desire of readers to dive deeper into their experience with books, to connect with each other (and ideally their favourite authors), create their own stories based on the characters and worlds they love. Just take a look at some of the start-ups featured in the Bookseller’s Futurebook recently – Litsy, The Pigeonhole, Oolipo to name but a few – plus of course well-established players such as GoodReads and Wattpad. It’s been hard for publishers to gain traction with these models, with distrust flying in both directions.

The membership mindset, on the other hand, gives publishers the opportunity to host the conversation, rather than sitting outside it, and to create new revenue streams at high margin. It’s a model worth taking seriously.


10 lessons from Non Fiction: Following the Money at #Quantum16

At the Quantum Conference on Monday, Roger Domingo (Planeta Hipermedia), Elizabeth Baldwin (Harvard Business Review) and Richard Sullivan (Osprey Publishing) shared their insights into how they have furthered their revenue from projects alongside traditional non-fiction publishing. Here are our top 10 takeaway points from the talk.

Planeta Hipermedia

1) Planeta Hipermedia have built a successful series of online multi-media courses based on the 20 most successful business books they publish.

2) The consumer message is clear for this product. For the same price as the book, 20 euros, you can get the same knowledge as you would do reading a book, but you gain it via a variety of media.

3) Planeta Hipermedia have over 500,000 users signed up to use these courses – mostly B2B customers, who come via their companies. Planeta Hipermedia have secured numerous corporate deals for these packages, including Banco Santander and Telefonica

Harvard Business Review

4) Harvard Business Review has seen a 21% growth by offering access to content in print and online; together with access to their archives. The archives offer subscribers 25 years of content to review

5) HBR also offers a visual library. This is a clever way of taking content and offering it to subscribers to download, whitelabel the design to their own company branding and use in meetings and presentations as they see fit.

6) HBR publishing arm is essentially a niche, high-level business publisher, publishing 35-40 books a year.HBR has grown their social media following to over 7 million since 2011, which has helped to raise awareness of the brand

Osprey Publishing

7) Osprey Publishing started to offer supplements for their niche titles from 2008 as an extra revenue stream.

8) From 2012 Osprey established a relationship with figure manufacturers so that they could offer plastic figures as a bolt on to their books. This is seen to be key to maximizing the revenue which can be obtained from their IP

9) Since 2015 Osprey have also started creating board games and card games in order to capitalise on this further.

BookMachine Oxford March [REVIEW II]

Bea Longworth is director and co-founder at Whooc Publishing Ltd, a fledgling startup making first-person fiction apps for young adults under its Freed Fiction imprint. 

A few minutes after arriving at House Bar, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Is there going to be a talk or something?” It was a valid question – Wednesday night marked the debut of BookMachine Oxford’s ‘With…’ event format.

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BookMachine Oxford March [REVIEW]

Jonathan Davis (Chandos Publishing), who you might have seen on Twitter as @canadiancat has written this comprehensive review of BookMachine Oxford with Richard Sullivan – a great summary for those who missed it.

If BookMachine is “the most fun you can have with your clothes on”, the latest gathering had no problem in filling up the top-floor of Oxford’s House Bar on Wednesday night.

With a new, and untested, approach for BookMachine Oxford, organised by wunder-kind, Charly Ford of Osprey and sponsored by recruitment specialists, Atwood-Tate, the evening started with a short talk from Richard Sullivan, Managing Director of Osprey Publishing.

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5 Questions for Charly Ford of Osprey Publishing, host of BookMachine Oxford [INTERVIEW]

Charly FordCharly Ford is a Project Manager at Osprey Publishing and is hosting the BookMachine event in Oxford. Here, Charly shares her enthusiasm for publishing and tells us why you should come along and join the fun later this month.

Eventbrite - BookMachine Oxford with Richard Sullivan, MD of Osprey Publishing


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5 questions for Richard Sullivan, MD of Osprey Publishing [INTERVIEW]

Richard SullivanIn the run up to BookMachine Oxford, we’re compiling some interviews with publishing-type folk who will be going to the event.

Richard Sullivan (who is our key speaker) is the MD of Osprey Publishing which is a leading publisher of military history, amongst other things and part of Osprey Group – the destination for enthusiasts. Richard has a particular interest in seeking new partnerships to develop print and digital products for niche audiences across the globe. He was previously Marketing Director of Osprey and is currently reading some gritty crime noir alongside a history of Dreadnought battleships. You can hear him talk at BookMachine Oxford.
Eventbrite - BookMachine Oxford with Richard Sullivan, MD of Osprey Publishing

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5 questions for Rebecca Smart, CEO of Osprey Group [INTERVIEW]

Rebecca Smart

The Osprey Group is an international publishing group with a digital success record that many larger publishers would envy. They publish under three brands: Osprey Publishing, Shire Books and Angry Robot. FutureBook award-winning Rebecca Smart, their CEO, has been recognised for her pioneering attitude and her leadership skills – now she shares some savvy thinking with BookMachine.

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BookMachine Oxford (hosted by Osprey Group) – 28th June [EVENT]

BookMachine Oxford

BookMachine Oxford

(hosted by Osprey Group)


Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 5:30 PM

All Bar One, 124 High Street, OX1 4DF Oxford


BookMachine is coming to Oxford! If you work in publishing and live in Oxford, we’re pleased to say that Charly Ford and Emily Holmes, from Osprey Publishing will be hosting the very first BookMachine Oxford shindig.

You can sign up below!

BookMachine Oxford is hosted by Osprey Group.

Osprey Group

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