‘Capital New York’ Readies Launch; Contemplates Discount Club Model

The concept of a local affinity club for like-minded members looking for deals is always out there, although it’s never really been mastered. Now, in the wake of Groupon’s success, the club concept looks like a vertical take on group-buying — and eminently doable.

Back in the ’90s, The Family Entertainment Network tried to do a club, but it faltered on low volume issues. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have also tried to develop clubs.

The New York Times offered discounts to Coney Island Cyclone baseball games and New York Public Library events, among other things, while the Los Angeles Times promised cheap movie tickets, etc. Angie’s List, similarly, provides a discount marketplace for members, also largely consisting of discount movie tickets.

Now comes Capital New York, a New York City intelligentsia site that is being developed by Josh Benson and Tom McGeveran, both former writers with The New York Observer, a newspaper for highbrow New Yorkers. The site is advised, by among others, journalism vet Merrill Brown and impresario Andrew Rasiej, the founder of the influential Irving Plaza concert hall.

Benson and McGeveran emphasize that they are mostly focusing on building a user base, rather than revenues. To that end, they’ve attracted a large group of writers that looks like where The Huffington Post may have intended to go with its local strategy.

But the site also seeks to sell advertising and earn other revenues from local businesses. The club concept plays a central role in the site’s long-term plans. It also complements an editorial strategy that plans to “embed” its writers with key New York cultural institutions, such as Lincoln Center, the 92nd St. Y, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, etc.

“We’re putting in place partnership showpieces, but we’re really only focused on brand alignment,” notes McGeveran. The club concept is especially appealing because “we have a very attractive membership level. We’d provide access to out of the ordinary things, very inclusive things, such as white papers, live events…access to news rooms.”

Benson adds that “we think club membership makes a lot of sense as we come to know [reader] obsessions. Everybody wants to see an interview with [people like former New Yorker editor] Tina Brown. Club members might sit in on a panel discussion. Readers would feel it was very, very tailored to them.”

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