What do you want from us? Yes, that’s right: You.
That is a fundamental question every media outlet, online or otherwise, should constantly be asking its readers, listeners, and viewers. In that sense, War on the Rocks is no different. We ask that question in many ways and in different fora. We run an annual user survey, constantly engage with feedback delivered via social media and email, and keep a finger on the pulse of what works and what doesn’t through analytics.
One way that War on the Rocks is different, however, is what animates the question in the first place. Unlike many other media outlets, we are not trying to get as many people as possible to engage with our content. Success for War on the Rocks is not about massing the highest number of eyeballs on our digital terrain. It is about getting and keeping the right eyeballs.
We care only about a very specific kind of readership. If you work in national security broadly defined — the uniformed military, the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, the think tank world, international development, the defense industry, and the policy-engaged niches of academia — we want you to love War on the Rocks.
If you’re a military veteran or just have a strong passion for world events, military affairs, or foreign policy, we want you to love War on the Rocks. In other words, if War on the Rocks consistently attracts people who work on national security or care a lot about it, we are successful. As I wrote in an article marking our third anniversary, you are what makes War on the Rocks what it is. According to our research and survey data, you are consistently more engaged, educated, influential, and informed than those who go to other sites on defense and foreign policy. Quality begets quality. Other sites have users — millions of them. We have tribal members. We are smaller in number, but committed to changing the world. That is powerful.
You come to War on the Rocks not just because of our articles and podcasts, but because we create an experience that allows you to feel more connected to defense, foreign policy, national security, and the community of people who define themselves by their commitment to these issues.
As for everyone else? Meh. If we become a site for everyone else, our raw readership numbers will go up, but we will be doing something wrong. We will have given up on what makes us what we are.
It is with this in mind that I approached the question of a War on the Rocks membership.
That question boils down to this: What could we offer you (yes, you) that you would pay a small amount of money for? And how could we do this in a way that strengthens rather than compromises the mission-oriented principles that animate the War on the Rocks project?
To answer this question, I turned to all the information we had gathered about what you want from War on the Rocks. It turns out, in addition to more content (which we can and will give you) you want more opportunities to interact with two buckets of people. The first bucket is for experts who write for us and participate in our podcasts. You want to hear more from them and interact with them more directly. The second bucket is for other people like you: servicemembers, wonks, civil servants, think tankers, grad students, Hill staffers, veterans, aid workers, etc. You are a community. You want to talk to each other. And social media is not quite doing it for you.
So, I set about to build a membership that would allow you to do these things. In other words, I wanted to create an experience that allows you to feel even more connected to defense, foreign policy, and national security. So, that’s what we did. Then we beta tested it for months with people who signed up to be first-in. And now it is available for all of you. Let me explain the two components that make up the membership:
First, we have the WarCasts. These are weekly webcasts moderated by yours truly featuring a rotating cast of experts prepared to help explain geopolitical developments as they unfold. If you want, you can watch live and even ask questions live. Or you can watch later at your leisure. Think of it as the weekly think tank panel of your dreams, but you don’t have to be subjected to those terrible sandwiches or the one crazy guy in the room grabbing the microphone.
Second, we have the War Hall. This is a members-only discussion forum where you can interact directly with our writers and each other, take part in our members-only book club, and keep your finger on the pulse of the national security community. The War Hall is built explicitly for people like you to engage with our experts and others like you. Other platforms have tried to solve this problem and have failed: We all get too many emails already and email distro lists are cumbersome. Twitter is too noisy and there are more trolls now than ever. Not all of our Facebook friends want to hear our latest thoughts on Army acquisitions, Russia’s military posture, or the intricacies of jihadist ideology. In the War Hall, you can geek out on all this to your heart’s content with a tribe of people just as committed as you. Plus, our members can use The War Hall to provide direct input on new features and services we roll out over time.
And this is just the start. Over time, we are going to test more new features.
What about cost? That is, naturally, the question that pops into your head when someone is offering you something. The good news — and there is only good news — is that it is cheap: just $4.99 a month or $50 a year.
If you want to know more about this, or if you’re already sold and want to sign up, just check out the membership landing page.
As I wrote last year, our success as a business and as a mission-oriented organization will be determined by our ability to deepen these experiences while also pulling more committed people into the tribe. This is at the core of our plan to make that happen. This is how we generate revenue without compromising on our mission of forcing a better strategic conversation. This is how we are going to show the media industry that it is possible and even advantageous to put smart content, smart experiences, and smart, motivated, passionate readers first.
Our success depends on giving you what you want.
Ryan Evans is the founder and editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.