Politico has just announced it will be launching a subscriber service, Politico Pro, next February. According to a press release, Politico Pro’s expected staff of forty journalists will provide “high-impact, high-velocity reporting on the politics of energy, technology and health care reform” for political and policy professionals. At what price? $2,495 for the first subscriber to a single vertical such as energy; and after that, $1,000 for each additional subscriber—to any vertical—from the same organization. CJR assistant editor Joel Meares spoke to Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei today about what Politico Pro will provide that Politico doesn’t, who they’re looking to hire, and what might be next for the dominant Beltway publication. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Was Politico Pro something you had in mind when you first started Politico?
It’s been knocking around the past year or so. The last six months is when we became really intensely interested in the idea and thought that it could be a big success. But it wasn’t always our intention. When we started Politico our focus was very much on an advertising-based product. The longer we’ve been in this market, the more familiar we’ve become with what readers need and want. And it became pretty abundantly clear to us that there was a real opportunity in the subscription model here in Washington, much like there was an opportunity for Politico in late 2006, early 2007. You look at the market and it gives the appearance of being oversaturated and over-served. In ’06 we thought that wasn’t the case. We actually thought that the market was underserved, that people here weren’t getting enough coverage of politics and governance, and they weren’t getting it quickly enough, or in a way that comported with how political junkies and political professionals were living their lives.
When we looked at the paid subscription market here in Washington we walked away with the sense that it’s a very similar situation. There are a lot of different companies that do different aspects of in-depth policy coverage, but very few of them do it in a way that we think comports with how political and policy professionals live their lives—they’re not getting the information in real time, they’re not getting it in quick bursts that comport with the hectic nature of their lives, and they’re not getting enough of the personality and the politics intertwined with policy so they can understand in a 360 degree way what’s happening in any given area at any given time.
Who are these political junkies that Politico Pro is for?
It’s a pretty broad market. It’s people who work on the Hill, work in the administration, lobbyists, think tanks, academics, learning institutions, and, maybe on the margins, hedge funds—people in New York trying to figure out what’s really happening in Washington so they can make wise business decisions. It’s a small group when you look at it as a mass media consumption market, but it’s a pretty large market when you look at it as a business proposition and whether or not you can crack in there and make money doing really aggressive, high-quality reporting.
How will Politico Pro differ from Politico?
It’s being set up as an entirely separate entity, with new staff from top to bottom, because we don’t want to do anything that would weaken our existing site. In fact, we’re hiring even more people for the existing site. So what people get now for free, they’re going to continue to get more and more of.