Wary of a fickle ad market, many publishers have been trying to lean more heavily on subscribers for revenue in recent years. TheStreet has done the same, though its market—Wall Street—and its products—investment advice—make the company a unique test case.
As such, the company has managed to make significant changes to its business model since 2011. While TheStreet has long been a subscription-dominated business, at that inflection point, subscriptions made up about two-thirds of total revenue at $39 million—they’re now 80 percent of revenue and approaching $50 million, up 77 percent in the last two years alone.
Much of that growth has come through acquisitions, but the company is exploring new models that can help generate organic growth. Its latest attempt is in implementing a metered paywall for its Real Money subscription product.
“We’ve transformed TheStreet.com over the past few years to become less dependent on advertising by emphasizing the sale of lucrative subscriptions,” says Erwin Eichmann, chief business officer for TheStreet. “Real Money is the first subscription service that we are offering on a freemium model, and we’re excited to do so.”
Real Money, a collection of articles from more than 30 investment managers and analysts, will allow users access to eight articles per month before they’re hit with a hard wall. From there, subscriptions start at $3 per week and go up to a $16-per-week premium version. Those price points are unchanged from the previous hard wall model.
The idea isn’t novel—Eichmann calls it “both well-established and profitable”—but for a business increasingly (and intentionally) reliant on subscriptions, allowing users free access to a paid product is a calculated risk-versus-reward proposition.
Real Money is already one of TheStreet’s three largest subscription services by revenue, and its most popular stock market offering by volume, Eichmann says. The move to a freemium model is not only a gamble on its value, but on the size of the market for it.
“Our impetus for the metered paywall was the simple realization that a larger audience for Real Money means, over time, a larger subscriber base for Real Money,” he says. “We are always looking to increase the number of subscribers for all our services [and] a metered paywall is one of the strategies that could be leveraged for our other subscription services.”