When you can’t receive the product unless you pay your share of the costs for producing it, that’s subscription. It is not a subsidy system, but an alternative to subsidy: direct payment. The good news is that everyone knows who the “customer” is: anyone who values the product enough to pay for it. The bad news: a lot of the public is left out, including those who cannot afford to subscribe. And there are costs that have nothing to do with producing good journalism: Marketing expense, and subscriber “churn,” for example.
For anyone attracted to journalism by the opportunity to inform the public as a whole — the nation, the province, the town — subscription-only models are a problem. Which is not to say they are a “bad” solution. In practice, most subscription models are combined with advertising and other revenue sources to lower the price and make the product more affordable. And remember: there is no perfect answer.
With membership, the logic is different. Locate your strongest supporters and learn how to appeal to them for support. This is how I would define membership after three years of work as director of the Membership Puzzle Project.