76 Ways to Make Money in Digital Media

In much the same way I used to quiz my grandmother about how she survived the Great Depression, a younger colleague recently asked me what online journalism was like in the 1990s (we started Slate in 1996). As I started to talk about it, I realized that the journalism itself hasn’t changed that much—blah blah social media, blah blah interactives, blah blah longform—but what has changed is the money. There didn’t used to be any. Now there’s a lot.


As an exercise, I made myself two lists: all the sources of revenue I can remember for 1998 digital journalism and all the sources of revenue I can remember for 2014 digital journalism. I’m not exactly sure what they explain, but I suspect it’s a lot.


In 1998, the sources of revenue for online journalism were:

  1. Funding from some rich person

  2. Funding from some rich company that was making a long-shot bet

  3. Banner ads

  4. Really bad subscription schemes

  5. Some lead-generation business (as Jim Ledbetter reminded me)

In 2014, the sources of revenue for digital journalism are:

  1. Funding from some rich person (e.g., eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media)

  2. Funding from some rich company that is making a long-shot bet (e.g., some of Bloomberg’s ventures)

  3. Ads from real (i.e., not network) advertisers

  4. Ad network ads

  5. AdSense ads from Google

  6. Outbrain-style links to other people’s content that pays when readers click it

  7. Native advertising

  8. Make the native ads yourself and get a production fee

  9. Build a microsite for the native content and get paid separately for that

  10. Subscription (no content unless you pay)

  11. Paywall (some content, then you have to pay, à la the New York Times)

  12. Micropayment (pay for each individual piece of content)

  13. Membership (content is free, but bonus stuff—discounts, Easter eggs—for members; e.g., Slate Plus!)

  14. Tablet-only subscriptions

  15. Paid app

  16. Tip jar (asking for support without perks)

  17. Kindle subscriptions

  18. Sell swag and merchandise directly to readers.

  19. Amazon Associates revenue (via links in stories)

  20. Amazon Associates revenue where you assign stories about products in order to get the sales cut

  21. Sell your own merchandise but through a company that fulfills it and pays you a cut (e.g., Café Press)

  22. Lead generation—send a reader who becomes a customer, get paid

  23. Syndicate stories to other digital publishers to run on their sites

  24. Syndicate stories to print publications

  25. Syndication for textbooks/academia (e.g., PARS)

  26. LexisNexis

  27. Syndicate content for advertiser’s microsite

  28. Public events—ticket revenue

  29. Public events—corporate sponsor revenue

  30. Conferences for professionals—ticket revenue

  31. Conferences—other forms of sponsorship (badge sponsorship, mobile service sponsorship)

  32. Paid parties: Readers pay to socialize with you

  33. Conferences—booths/expo revenue

  34. Events as sales spiel—bring people in for content of event, then sell them something

  35. Native events—events put on for advertiser

  36. Foundation funds journalism on a favorite subject

  37. University funds journalism on a favored subject

  38. Donations from foundations not tied to a particular project

  39. Mobile banner ads

  40. Mobile and tablet interstitials

  41. Video ads from real advertisers

  42. Network video ads

  43. Google/YouTube pays to have you create video

  44. YouTube video revenue share

  45. Podcast ads—not host-read

  46. Podcast ads, host-read, paid for click-through/sign ups

  47. Podcast ads, host read, not paid for performance

  48. Podcast festivals

  49. Podcasts created for sponsors 

  50. Cruises for readers

  51. Teach classes for readers or other journalists

  52. Webinars

  53. Sell photo archives both digitally and as prints

  54. Publish physical books of your digital content

  55. Kindle singles and other e-books

  56. Sell unusual books for non-Amazon publishers, as Slate did with this Ursula LeGuin book

  57. Sell movie and TV rights

  58. Product placement—get paid for using products and reviewing them

  59. Use your Google page rank power to put in links to other places and get paid for referrals (which undoubtedly infuriates Google)

  60. Sponsored tweets

  61. Get paid to make Facebook posts on a particular subject.

  62. Ads in emails

  63. Kickstarter fundraising (à la 99 Percent Invisible)

  64. Build apps for people

  65. Higher-end specialized product (e.g., Politico Pro)

  66. Targeted research for subscribers who pay a premium (e.g., BI Intelligence)

  67. Create viral content for advertisers and charge for virality in a BuzzFeed-y manner

  68. Get people to sign up for an email list for an advertiser, as Upworthy does

  69. Sell your subscriber data

  70. Sell your email lists

  71. Build a platform, put great journalism on it, and sell the platform (e.g., the Atavist)

  72. Wine Clubs

  73. Sell access to archives (hat tip: Joe Turner)

  74. Get government funding to create journalism, e.g., USAID (hat tip: Joe Turner again)

  75. More than a tip jar—straight-up donations, à la Brainpickings and NPR (hat tip: David Harvey)

  76. White papers