Online subscription services are still fairly rare on the internet and mostly associated with big news organisations such as The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and The Economist. However, Irish magazine Hot Press has decided to take the plunge with the launch of its subscription website earlier this month.
Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, the magazine has long been at the forefront of Irish music journalism. Although music remains its focal point, the magazine also covers the arts, cinema, sport, fashion and politics.
The magazine has now branched out into an online presence in the form of www.hotpress.com. Following the trials and tribulations of free content in recent years, Hot Press realised from the beginning that a subscription service was the only option.
“We have spent the last year and a half developing the full concept of hotpress.com,” said Duan Stokes (picture), executive director. “The site had a soft launch in December 2001. Content was free to begin with and this month we have migrated over to a full subscription model. We always knew that you can’t provide the kind of content that hotpress.com is delivering on a free basis, so we announced at the soft launch of the site that subscription charges would come into play in due course.”
Stokes said that the transition period played an important role in the site’s development. “It gave us the opportunity to build up a user base and gave us time to adjust, taking on board the user’s experience in refining it,” he says. Design and content weren’t the only things to be changed. Hotpress.com also underwent a complete redesign of its backend systems to improve efficiency.
By the time the subscription service was launched this month, the site had 12,000 members and almost a million page impressions a month being generated. Transferring this user base over to the subscription model may be a difficult task, but hotpress.com feels that its found the right balance between price and what is on offer. Membership of the site for a year will cost €20. Mindful of keeping its existing reader base on board, the site has a range of discounted options. For a limited time, the site will reward existing members by offering full membership for €10. New student memberships are available at reduced rate of €15. Special offers will also be available for people choosing to subscribe to both the website and the magazine.
Aside from access to all areas of Hotpress.com, subscribers will also enjoy a range of benefits, such as, a range of CDs for €10 each, secured tickets to sell-out gigs and a personalised email with a @hotpress.com address. Subscribers can also avail of discounts at Hobo clothing, Nude cafe and the Irish Film Centre.
The Hot Press archive will also be an important element of the site. According to Stokes, virtually everything that has been published over the past five to six years is now available online. “In addition, we have selected material going back to 1977, for example, interviews with U2 and Rory Gallagher,” he says. Archived stories will also appear below current stories. “For example, if you are reading an article on the Frames, you will see a list of links below for previous stories on the band.”
Although early days yet, subscriptions are well into four figures, according to Stokes. Needless to say, this figure will have to grow over time, since hotpress.com needs to generate a substantial portion of its revenues from subscription. However, the site does enjoy the support of the greater organisation during this early period.
“Nobody’s going to pull the plug on this overnight. For the magazine, it has offered an unprecedented interaction with readers through the web,” says Stokes.
In terms of managing resources, Hot Press has had to hire one full-time online editor. Alongside this, additional writers and designers have been used in managing the increased workload. “Across the organisation everyone has stepped up their commitment. Everyone now has an extra element to their job,” says Stokes.
“It is our aim to make hotpress.com the best entertainment, music and current affairs website you can find on the internet,” Stokes adds. “We believe that it already stands up alongside the very best, and the challenge for us now is to continue to grow and develop the kind service which will allow us to maintain that position in the long run.”