There isn’t a playbook for this niche media era affectionately coined “The Passion Economy” by visionary investor Li Jin. That means, on occasion, mistakes are made. This is about one of those mistakes. And hopefully, it’s a guiding lesson for any of you looking to build your own media operation. The previous open letter was on 2PM’s fifth anniversary. In the concluding paragraph, I added a personal mission.
The 2PM that I want to finish building is one that is even better every day, inside and out. What began as a hobby became my life’s professional pursuit.
Each year, 2PM Inc. grows more sophisticated in its offering. What began as a simple WordPress theme and basic newsletter has become a quilt of custom front-end builds and backend CMS development buoyed by a well-designed, artful newsletter. Each improvement has been self-funded by membership revenue. But of the most important projects at 2PM, it isn’t a custom build at all. The DTC Power List, updated weekly, is host to nearly 500 companies ranked by a host of factors including growth rate. It’s evolved to become a tool that helps investors, media operators, founders, and marketers better understand the modern brand landscape. But it took a while for it to become what it is today. Three years to be precise.
In the process, I raised the price of the annual membership from $120 in 2019 to $150 in 2020 to $200 in 2021, a yearly occurrence that reflected the growing cost of maintenance and an expansive portfolio of content archives and access. In each case, members are grandfathered in at their rate, in perpetuity (as long as they maintain an active account).
In addition to a Yearly Executive Membership, 2021 saw another change. I offered a $120 bi-annual membership for those who couldn’t afford the full $200. But here was the mistake. I ended the Monthly Membership ($20), an option that led to quite a few bad actors who wanted temporary access to 2PM’s archives, databases, or the DTC Power List. A number of monthly subscribers would join and cancel in the same day, some would even institute chargeback fees from our provider. My email volume would rise with customer service concerns, questions, and outright complaints. And this would eventually come to hinder product quality.
To make my life easier, I ended that option to reduce customer service email. But in the process made it a lot harder for those who wanted to access or contribute to 2PM. Those who’ve felt most excluded by the $120 and $200 price points: savvy high school and college students, early-career employees, or even industry-adjacent executives who wanted access despite “not being in eCommerce or DTC.”
As of this week, I have reinstated the monthly executive membership – an efficient and worthwhile way to stay engaged.
I did accomplish my goal in streamlining member services. Customer service requests fell by nearly 72%. But also, inbound commentary and feedback dropped as well. Much of that input had been from younger contributors to the digital industries; many were seeking mentorship or clarity. I love to provide both. One pricing decision excluded many great minds who would have otherwise contributed to the mindshare that is the 2PM community. As of this week, I have reinstated the monthly executive membership – an efficient and worthwhile way to stay engaged. I am also committed to scholarshipping 10 college students who want to learn from and contribute to what we’re building here.
One of the core principles of 2PM is the amplification of access. Each letter, we curate and distill ideas and strategies derived from the industry’s many developments. Today, more of those developments are discussed behind a paywall than ever. To study them, 2PM subscribes to sources like: The Economist, Financial Times, Digiday, Modern Retail, Business of Fashion, The Information, Vogue Business, Washington Post, Digital Commerce 360, Harvard Business Review, New York Times, TechCrunch, Quartz, Stratechery, Trends, countless Substack newsletters, and many more. I read them all and, with the additional context provided by operational experience, I write on these topics with the perspective of an operator.
As costs become more prohibitive for access to this type of information, I believe that the work that we do here also becomes more important. Few can afford thousands per month in subscription fees. We often discuss pricing and market position in the context of retail brands and how those market decisions may impact accessibility or inclusion. Never once did I suspect that the decision to remove the monthly membership would have a collateral impact on the fundamental goal of this company: the democratization of high level information and insight.
With this change, I hope that it can reignite the interest in 2PM by the new, the young, and the curious. In the meantime, this small team and I will continue to work to prove its value.
By Web Smith