Luisa Zhou: «With Steady we’re relaunching self-funded and independent journalism»

The model adopted by Berlin startup Steady could be the future for media makers who don't like clickbait content. Luisa Zhou promotes it in Italy.

DiGiulia Parini Bruno

Apr 19, 2021

The story of Luisa Zhou, consultant for Steady, the startup that offers membership-based payment solutions to online media content providers, gets underway in Turin. But her roots lie in Zhejiang, where her parents set out from to build a better life. The first activity they opened was a restaurant (a cliché), where Luisa spent her first 19 years and discovered a love of writing. After completing her schooling, she spent a gap year in Hangzhou, near Shanghai. Back in Turin, she graduated in Linguistic Mediation and began a two-year course at the Scuola Holden in Story Design & Digital Communication. In 2016 she began a personal reflection on sino-Italian identity and on the representation of the “new generations”, which led her to participate in various activities such as the Lingua Madre National Literary Competition (special slow food award – Terra Madre) and the show La Giovine Italia (Almateatro), winner of the MigrArti 2016 grant. In the last year she has started working for the Berlin startup Steady, a company that helps publishers, creatives and media makers in a broad sense achieve economic stability through using a paying membership formula for users to access content.

What is Steady’s mission?

“Steady is a platform that helps journalists, publishers, podcasters, media makers in a broad sense achieve economic stability through a membership-based model. Not by chance, Steady means ‘constant, stable’. In a more sustainable, diverse media landscape, it is necessary to build a pact of trust with your audience. Producing quality content has a cost that must be recognised”.

We have created a real business-in-a-box for the Creator Economy: with Steady you can now publish your newspaper, magazine or newsletter directly on the platform, grow and monetize. All in one space

What role do memberships play?

“Members of a community decide to offer monthly or annual funding to support a project they love, sometimes without receiving anything in return. Memberships strengthen the bond with their audience, but they are also a way to ensure economic and editorial independence. We call them memberships, to differentiate them from simple subscriptions and to highlight the relationship with members. All you need to do is post content regularly and have a community that appreciates your work”.

What led you to choose Steady?

“The meeting with Steady was fortuitous. I came across a job advert on LinkedIn and out of curiosity I took a look at the platform: the concept of membership was something I had already heard of, but not really explored. I liked two things: the economic recognition of editorial and creative work and the focus on the link between media makers and communities. In this historic moment in time when page after page of online content is consumed, you often end up being passive users, without the possibility of creating a meaningful dialogue or actively participating in the conversation”.

Signing up for a membership program and supporting a project that you believe in is a conscious choice, which is a massive shake-up of current market logic. You don’t pay because you have to, you pay because you want to

How do you see publishing and journalism today?

“The world of communication has the task of creating common ground between those who produce the message and those who receive it, be it an advertising campaign, an Instagram post or a live broadcast on Twitch. Those who communicate are at the service of the community, and it is good to remember that. The same goes for journalism, which sometimes remains anchored in clickbait headlines, fake news, and reliance on advertising revenue. But luckily there are many cases of good journalism”.

What are the disadvantages in a member-funded model?

“The difficulty is really the first step, the one where you start asking your audience for money. It’s something that can create a little discomfort at first, since it’s not easy to do self-promotion. Publishers often tell us that they do not have time for advertising, that they do not want to spam their contacts or that they do not need them, but to make a membership program work you need to talk about it over and over again, tell people that there is the possibility of supporting project X and that it is right there, just a few clicks away”.

Translated by Adam Clark

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