The Information made a splash with its high-priced subscription model, but its founder says it may experiment with ads this year

The Information made a splash with its high-priced subscription model, but its founder says it may experiment with ads this year

  • Jessica Lessin, one of Business Insider's "100 people transforming business," started The Information based on pricey subscriptions, but said she may experiment with advertising this year.
  • That's something of a pivot for the 5-year-old tech publication, where Lessin has eschewed traditional forms of advertising, saying they lead to bad incentives and devalue the journalism.
  • Lessin said she sees an opportunity to run certain kinds of ads that provide value to readers.
  • See the full list of the 100 people transforming business here.

Jessica Lessin started her high-priced tech news publication, The Information, five years ago on the firm belief that subscriptions were the right business model for high-quality news.

Today, subscriptions, mostly priced at $400 a year, still drive the majority of The Information's revenue, but Lessin said she's open to new kinds of revenue, even - gasp - some kinds of advertising.

The former Wall Street Journal tech reporter said she sees an opportunity to match The Information's readers with advertisements in its newsletters for things like jobs and events, information that the audience is interested in, just not "flashing banner ads."

Read more: The New York Times now has 1,600 journalists, and it's betting new hires can help it keep growing subs in the post-Trump era

She said The Information has been brainstorming about such experiments this year after seeing growing interest from companies in placing those kinds of ads. Lessin said The Information's subscribers number in the "low tens of thousands," and around 300,000 get its weekly newsletter.

"It could be exciting from a revenue standpoint," she said.

Lessin said she hasn't changed her point of view on the ad-supported media model, though.

"I'm still incredibly leery of forms of advertising," she said. "It comes down to aligning our incentives with the incentives of the business. Programmatic or native advertising lead to confusion or the wrong incentives for the creation of quality journalism. You live on the treadmill of impressions. If you put branded content on your site, I personally believe you're devaluing your journalism and confusing the reader."

The Information gets about 10% of revenue from event sponsorships but most of the revenue still comes from subscriptions. At the high end, the cost can run into the tens of thousands for corporate packages, which represent about 10% of subscribers and growing. Lessin doesn't see that overall mix changing.

"We'll always be subscription-focused," she said. "We'll eventually start to experiment with other revenue streams as well. But subscriptions are clearly the revenue that can support the most high-quality news."