Clare Cook and Esa Sirkkunen
In this chapter we identify and curate the findings of the SuBMoJour project in terms of the different revenue sources being used across the startup case studies. The database can be searched comprehensively according to revenue streams, such as the advertising models, content models, revenue per year, revenue streams, selling products, staff size or content etc. By presenting the commonality in revenue streams, it has been possible to identify trends in order to better shape an understanding of sustainability for media startups.
The aim of the project was not to find one single revenue model but rather list a variety of different models and try to find common traits among them and see what kind of business models the journalistic pure players are using. This focus hopes to offer a better understanding of the possibilities for sustainability both now and in the future. It is a timely question when the tools that have made content creation so ubiquitous have had such a destructive effect on the business of journalism. Almost every media manager worldwide is still asking one core question: how can the media companies maintain and increase profits in a socially networked and abundant landscape?
New and functioning revenue sources were hard to find: advertising (especially display) seems to be the most common way of creating revenue. Where other revenue sources were identified, this was often in addition to advertising. The majority had diversified to include more than one revenue stream. Where it was hard to evidence entirely new revenue sources, it was however possible to find new ways in which revenue sources have been combined or reconfigured. That is to say that they have combined a portfolio of revenue sources rather than relying on just one, as in the offline publishing world of dual product which relied almost entirely on advertising (Picard 1989). Where one revenue source may work for one audience or product, it may not work for another. A detailed breakdown of how startups do this is available by searching the database on a case-by-case basis. For example, before French news site Rue89 was acquired by Le Nouvel Observateur (which helped facilitate full sustainability) 42% of Rue89’s revenue came from advertisement sales (€797,492), 32% from the magazine (€614,641), 16% from training and web development (€307,039) and the remaining 9% from other products.
In our findings the business models of the cases fall into two main categories: those that have storytelling-orientated business models and those that rely on a more service-orientated model. The sites whose business model is based around storytelling are still prevalent in our findings. These sites focus on making money from producing original content, news and stories, for audiences. The difference to the mass media model is that in the online world the target audience is smaller. Online journalism relies heavily on niche audiences built around targeted themes such as hobbies, neighborhoods or psychographic tendencies. In this niche journalism there is a tight triangulation between journalistic content and advertised products. Users can come to a travel site because it offers the best collection of last-minute holiday offers not solely because it offers travel journalism about interesting places to travel. Or when sports news is surrounded by betting-site advertisements one begins to perceive a blurring of boundaries on who is advertising for whom.
The other group, service-oriented business models, seems to be growing. This group consists of sites that don’t try to monetize the journalistic content as such. For example citizen journalism sites are more like platforms that curate and moderate citizen-oriented content, or news aggregators compile stories form other outlets. Some startups have specialized in selling technology, information, training or diversifying to redefine what it means to do news. In these cases, journalistic content may play a part in the wider brand creation that helps sell services or sister products.
It is worth noting the revenue sources available for funding journalism in broad terms, by way of introduction. Academic literature offers an understanding of the issues facing media economics contemporaneously (Jones and Salter 2012; Bruno and Nielsen 2012; Grueskin et al 2011; Levy and Nielsen 2010). Findings by Kaye and Quinn (2010) list the following possible solutions for revenue gathering in the new business environment.
- Sponsorship and philanthropy where wealthy individuals and foundations support journalism, such as ProPublica.
- Microfunding and micropayments. Example of the former is a crowd-funding platform Spot.us, latter supports the idea of small, individual payments in exchange of content.
- Collaboration between mainstream media and citizen journalists, where the big media uses its channels to promote amateur content and creates a win-win situation for both parties.
- Family ownership and trusts, similar to the New York Times, the BBC or Scandinavian media group Schibsted.
- Narrowing the focus with niche and passion content, offering hard-to-find material that has high value to specific groups.
- Partnerships – adding value and sharing costs between parties, such as a newspaper, university and a foundation that share a common goal.
- Microeconomic concepts such as price discrimination, versioning, bundling and locking customers in.
- E-commerce and engagement – converting users into paying customers with online shopping or membership clubs.
- Digital deliverance, electronic paper and e-readers. How news companies could utilize tablets and digital editions to create new revenue sources.
In the preliminary stages of the project, unconventional sources were also used to map out the potential different revenue sources. For example, bloggers had already created their own ecosystem with multiple revenues, as showed in a problogger.net chart from October 2010 in chapter one. In addition to these themes, the revenue sources in the SuBMoJour project were categorized in a way to allow for a more detailed mapping of how startups make money. The categorisations also included sections for more information or details in order to gauge which revenue streams were perhaps being used, but were problematic, or which had been tried and then abandoned. The study wanted to assess as qualitatively as possible how revenue mechanisms worked – or didn’t work – in a down-to-earth way so as to offer real advice to entrepreneurs now and in the future. This included discussions such as the kind of advertisements that sell, whether partnerships work and how to sell syndication. Some of this advice is documented in the following chapter. The principle aim was to gather on-the-ground information about what variety of revenue sources were being used – and which ones were working well.
Only one source of major importance was included in the questionnaire but found not to be used by any of the startups in the database to date: namely the selling of data about users and their interests, friends, networks, or hobbies to advertisers. The providing of user data for advertisers has been one of the core attractions for advertisers using Facebook for example. According to WSJ in 2011 advertising represented 85% of Facebook’s revenue of $3.7 billion (WSJ 2012). The selling of user data may also eventually become one of the revenue sources of the journalistic pure players too but we did not find that among the revenue sources yet. There are also critical views about this kind of making money of user data, see for example Turow (2011).
Advertising, most notably display advertising, remained one of the most common ways of creating revenue for the startups in this study. Some of the most significant sites in the database, in terms of unique user numbers as well as length of time the site has existed, rely on advertising. Despite moves by many startups to diversify their sources of income, advertising was still a primary source of income for many, especially those startups with the largest turnovers. For example out of the 39 cases making over $100 000 in revenue per year, 25 of those generated incomes through advertising and several others were using it as an important source of revenue. The better performing sites in terms of advertising have found ways to triangulate their advertising more effectively, drawing content and advertising closely together.
The trend to seek out advertising revenues is based on a strategy that involves focussing on quantity or quality of audiences. Value comes in the quantity where there are large audiences that can be documented and quantified to advertisers, thus putting adverts in front of the largest audiences possible. These startups chase the highest number of unique users or page impressions possible. The value in quality may be expressed as smaller or niche audiences who are more cherry picked but offer interest to advertisers as they may offer an opportunity to put a highly targeted advert in front of highly focussed audiences (Knight & Cook 2013).
The use of mobile advertising, newsletter advertising, advertising on Facebook, Twitter or RSS were still quite rare in our findings. There were few cases in the database that were using location-based advertising.
Banner advertising: cost per view models
Several sites used banner advertising sold by CPM (cost per thousand) or CPI (cost per impression). Advertisers pay for every time their advertising is displayed. It is used in general by corporate advertisers or advertising agencies. Usually these sites have either big audiences or important niche audiences that advertisers want to reach. The highest revenue with these models was made in Japan, where news, sports and entertainment site Sankei Digital was making $40 million in 2010.
The main revenue source for Afterdawn.com Ltd in Finland is banner ads with CPM. It is a privately owned web publisher, located in Oulu, Finland. The company publishes its branded tech information sites AfterDawn.com in seven languages (English, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish). Afterdawn sites provide unbiased information, product reviews and technical details for mobile phones, high-definition televisions, gaming console technology and digital multimedia. This direct correlation between content based on high-end products and the potential for advertising could, in part, explain the success. The site has a more powerful niche in terms of business and revenue sustainability because the market and value of the products in these fields is so high. Briggs details this by comparing the niche market business proposition of Treehugger compared to Artsjournal, where niche values can vary when the potential for advertising is more lucrative (2012).
The Spanish personal blog MangasVerdes.es has banner ads (CPI) as the most important revenue source. It offers a varied range of journalistic services, from cultural issues to technology and sports. It is run by two journalists and counts on the collaboration of three fixed-contract freelancers. It makes around €10,000 per year, and is the most award-winning blog in the country in the last four years. The number of unique visitors is 8,000 per week, and it is the most read blog within the Canarias Islands, ranked nineteenth in the country. The site has leveraged social networks to increase its user numbers with regular updates being made to Facebook and Pinterest among others.
Revenues to News 3.0 come mostly from advertising (whose collection has been outsourced to Manzoni, one of the biggest Italian ad-agency). Banners are mostly sold with the CPM model, but in some instances News 3.0 relies also on sponsorships.
Banner advertising also sustains Stara Media Ltd, a privately owned web publisher, located in Tampere, Finland. The company publishes web news site Stara.fi which concentrates on entertainment news primarily music, movies, television, and celebrities. The site also offers blogs, videos and video podcasts. Stara.fi is one of the most successful independent news sites in Finland and boasts more than 300,000 weekly visits which takes it into the top 30 of Finnish websites. Here the quantity of audiences can generate value.
Italy’s Varese News is an online-only local newspaper, often described as one of the best Italian new media startup in the landscape. Varese News’ business model is based on advertising (CPM model) which constitutes 80% of the overall revenues. Founded in 1997 and having survived the dot-com bubble, it gradually became the most read publication in the Varese area, surpassing even the well-established local daily La Prealpina. Having focused from the very beginning on technological innovation and community building, today their website has 80,000 unique visitors per day and it is financially sustainable.
Finland’s Uusi Suomi Ltd is a privately owned web publisher, located in Helsinki, Finland. The most important revenue source is banner ads (CPI) despite the focus on debate and discussion. The company publishes web newspaper Uusi Suomi (uusisuomi.fi) which continues the journalistic traditions of Uusi Suomi, a conservative Finnish newspaper which operated between 1919-1991. Uusi Suomi is currently the most successful independent news site in Finland. The special features of this web newspaper – concentrated much on politics and societal issues – are independent news production and active and polemic discussions. Uusi Suomi has a popular blog section and its prominent bloggers have succeeded in starting many important debates on the national level.
Display advertising revenues are not always enough, however. Display banners were the main revenue source for French citizen journalism site AgoraVox, sold on a standard CPM model. Even with low operating costs, sustainability on this basis alone requires huge quantities of traffic. The site has had to diversify its incomes and services and appeal for state funding. Until they are more lucrative, the site will remain dependent on umbrella company Cybion, the founder’s consultancy agency.
Banner advertising: cost per click models
Several startups use pay per click (also called cost per click, CPC) which is the model used to direct traffic to websites, where advertisers pay the publisher (typically a website owner) when an ad is clicked. With search engines, advertisers typically bid on keyword phrases relevant to their target market. Content sites commonly charge a fixed price per click rather than use a bidding system. This trades on downstream traffic and the intrinsically navigable space that is the Internet.
Spanish company PortalParados.es uses CPC to generate revenues. The site has grown its unique visitor numbers by 500% since 2010 generating 260,000 visitors per month in 2012. It delivers information about employment, learning courses, activities and psychological assistance to a particular niche audience: unemployed people. It launched in 2009, and since last year it has been making approximately €30,000 per year. The staff is made up of two fixed-term employees and three freelancers, with plans to expand. Besides CPC, Portal Parados.es earns money via an education school sponsor that offers e-learning courses for unemployed citizens throughout the site. It is the only website in Spain oriented towards the unemployed, ranking 3,000 in the Spanish Google list.
Banner advertising: cost per action
Cost Per Action (sometimes known as pay per action) is a pricing model, where the advertiser pays for each specified action such as a purchase, a form submission, and so on linked to the advertisement. It has been used by sites such as Finnish Urheiluviikko.net (originally launched by DeeReal, Pekka Värre’s one man company). Currently the site is owned by High Roller Factory Ltd, a Maltese joint stock company. Urheiluviikko.net is a website that is aimed at enthusiastic sport followers and sport betters. The main emphasis is on football, ice hockey and other popular Finnish sports. Betting companies advertise on the Urheiluviikko.net website. Usually High Roller Factory makes direct contracts with advertisers: sometimes a third company is involved acting as an intermediary. Cost Per Action is the biggest revenue source. In 2011 it covered about 90% of total advertising income for the site.
Banner advertising: weekly or monthly rates
Most popular among smaller niche, one-man-band operations or hyperlocal sites is advertising sold as a set weekly or monthly rate. This is the easiest way for small-buy advertisers to comprehend online advertising and offers them more transparency. It harps back to offline models where an advert was “visible” for a fixed period or a fixed number of issues. UK, US and French hyperlocal or niche sites have used this: ThisFrenchLife, Landscape Juice, Alderleyedge, DavidsonNews.net, TheBatavian.com and WestSeattleBlog to name a few. In our research data these kind of sites generate revenues typically between $20,000 to $150,000 pa.
All three local sites interviewed in the US sold banner ads with weekly or monthly rates. At DavindsonNews.net, 75% of revenues came from banner advertising and classifieds, sold on a monthly basis. David Boraks, the editor-in chief notes that several stores with whom they deal simply don’t understand the web well enough to grasp the other advertising sales mechanisms, based on clicks or viewing traffic. DavidsonNews also trades on offering a more personal or relevant service, thousands of viewers who are within a couple of miles of the shop. This quality in geographic service holds value. With TheBatavian, all the advertising revenues are on a contract with most adverts priced per month, some priced on the day. The WestSeattleBlog has monthly flat-rate display advertising to local businesses.
The flat-rate model works well for sites that want to triangulate content with campaigns or seasons. ThisFrenchLife founder Craig McGinty watches other, larger advertising campaigns in order to “piggyback” on the clicks and increased traffic. He can sell the added interest to local shops and services, however it is time consuming and labour intensive (see chapter four). “If a bigger firm invests in some advertising or marketing then that will prompt search requests. So if my content ties in with that it will prompt search and put my adverts in front of future readers. It is the cross pollinating that is key.”
An online advertising network or ad network is a company that connects advertisers to web sites that want to host advertisements. The key function of an ad network is aggregation of ad space supply from publishers and matching it with advertiser demand.
ArsTechnica in the US uses advertising networks. Ken Fisher, the founder of the site, decided early on that he wanted to concentrate on content and outsourced the ad sales. Ad networks took a hefty cut of the revenue, but thanks to outsourcing, Fisher had to use only a few hours a week to handle the business side of things, compared to the labour-intensive hands-on approach detailed in the flat-term model. ArsTechnica moved from early CPA systems to CPM, now handled through Federated Media. It is responsible for serving ads, tracking ads and inventory – everything ad-related. Fisher cites the strategy as being a key to ArsTechinca’s success in highly-competitive tech-reporting field. Instead of concentrating on doubling revenue, Fisher could concentrate on doubling his readership.
Japan’s JBpress is a business news and information website, mainly developed to fill in gaps in the current mass media who have trouble keeping up with international and regional business news. JBPress mainly uses advertising sales syndication Media League, a scheme which designs and sells content advertisements, ad packages and advertorials. As of November 20, 2009, 30 groups are part of it, including finance, news, banking, IT, and other businesses. This can prove lucrative for business-focussed content such as JBpress. Through its collaborations with The Economist and the Financial Times, the company is able to report about economic trends from a perspective of the overseas media. Vice versa, JBpress also sends out news about Japanese businesses, technologies, and industries in English.
Where sites can set both a service and civic dimension to their content, the study found potential for sponsorship as a revenue source. Rantapallo.fi in Finland is a privately owned web publisher, located in Vantaa. It has sponsored sections like Finnmatkat TV which shows videos from the destinations of travel agency Finnmatkat. The company publishes a website on different sides of travelling – from travel stories and tips to news. Important parts of Rantapallo.fi are various kinds of searches: last-minute offers from all the major Finnish travel agencies, searches of flights, hotels and other relevant travel-related services. Rantapallo.fi is currently the most successful independent travel site in Finland and it has good visibility also on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Similarly, Landscape Juice, a community for anyone working in the landscaping industry in the UK, also uses sponsorship on the website, and tied in to events that are run. The site focuses on providing a service for the industry. This model does prove you can sell advertising and sponsorship on sites, but it is time consuming.
Pay for content
Much business and academic interest has been given to revenue models which rely on users paying for content. The database includes case studies adopting a range of membership, subscription, freemium and paid-for-only models. The factors pertaining to the success of these business models varied, however. Some traded especially on the independence of their journalistic content, where others offered tiered services and platforms. Setting a pricing structure for content on the Internet is perplexing to say the least, however, with startups tackling this revenue option with a variety of strategies.
Paywalls and subscriptions
Where readers are prepared to pay for content, the emphasis has been put on creating quality content that is unique or independent from other media products more widely available.
Dijonscope is a regional online news site with a strong identity for independent journalism. It is the first online daily regional to be officially recognised as a press organisation under French authorities. It is on its way to sustainability having moved from an advertising to subscription model. They dropped half of their readership with the decision to go paid-for at the end of 2011 (around 15,000 users a week now in 2012). They also have 7,000 a week subscribed on a free newsletter and a vibrant presence on social networks. Dijonscope aims for 3,500 subscriptions at €5 a month. Longer-term subscriptions are desirable as they offer more business security. The mission statement representing the work of the journalists on the site is impassioned: Inform, investigate, and criticize. The team of Dijon-based journalists focus on quality rather than quantity, with editorial decisions being more about cutting-edge investigative or informative reporting than following the day-to-day highlights from institutions – formerly the fodder of regional printed press. Their value for readers is in creating “a rigorous and independent range of information, drawn and filtered by journalists and correspondents whose intellectual integrity is uncompromising”.
MediaPart is a French investigative journalism website. It became internationally popular in 2009, when it published the first secret tape recordings that stirred up the Bettencourt-Woerth scandal. From the very beginning Mediapart adopted a radical business model: no advertising at all and most stories protected by a paywall (ca. €9 per month or €99 per year). In 2011, thanks to the larger visibility gained with the Bettencourt case and a reputation of being an independent media outlet, Mediapart reached 58,000 paying subscribers and it was able to break even.
Webronza in Japan is an online version of a liberal, forum-like magazine called Ronza in Japan. “Ronza” started in 1994 but was faced with suspension of publication in 2008 due to its small circulation. The main contents of Webronza included politics, economy, society, science and entertainment. With around 30 writers for each category, almost 150 writers, much scope has been developed for updating content with the latest opinions and analysis. Along with special editions and features, Webronza justifies charging for content. It costs around ¥ 735 (tax included €7,18) for a package of all categories. ¥ 262 (tax include €2.56) is for one category if contents are not subscribed to in a package. Webronza works consistently to convert users of free content into subscribers.
The database includes one case study with an aggregated paywall concept: Piano Media. In the two test markets of Slovakia and Slovenia, readers pay a monthly subscription fee which enables them to access premium content from a range of participating online media. This is provided by 60 websites and 20 publishers who have, in effect, teamed up. The publishers receive a share of the revenue based on the traffic generated while Piano Media keeps a commission. The concept is easy for both consumers and publishers. For consumers it offers paywalls made easy as they only pay a relatively small fee (circa €4), while publishers get 70% of total revenues from the paywall and more if users stay on their sites for longer.
In the case studies, membership services usually feature functionality that is worth paying for. They also trade on creating a “club” mentality around content or services. The two most notable examples were from Japan.
Nico Nico-doga is a video-sharing site operated by Niwango. The website’s most well-known feature is its commenting system, which allows user comments to stream across the screen as a video is being played, creating a new way to watch videos. Signing up to become a “general member” is free but the site also offers a more exclusive “premier membership” for a 525-yen ($6) monthly fee. Currently the site has more than 23 million members and is growing. Revenue sources are 70% from membership fees, 25% from advertising, and 5% from affiliates. The site offers a wide range of content, including videos, silent videos, and audio clips, encompassing genres such as music, anime, video games, communities, and politics. Music, animation and games take up 80 per cent, while politics and sociocultural topics take up 10 per cent each. More recently, the website has been putting more effort into its news reporting, including headline news reports, streaming live footage from press conferences, inviting politicians to hold debates, and has been collaborating with Japan’s public broadcasting station NHK. These projects have shown the website is capable of delivering something more than just entertainment. Only members are able to watch the videos.
Similarly Videonews.com is Japan’s first Internet news television specializing in news, and was set up by Japan’s pioneering video journalist, Tetsuo Jimbo. Jimbo saw the need for a truly independent news television station that did not rely on advertising revenue. There are no revenues from advertising, just membership fees (early attempts with Adsense were abandoned). Videonews.com charges a subscription price, 525 yen a month (€5,13). All shows have free previews, giving people the chance to watch the first five to ten minutes of each content for free. Once logged into the members-only page, members have access to a video news forum, allowing them to voice their opinions about shows with other members. In 2008, the number of subscribers reached 8000, making the business sustainable. As at January 2012, the number of subscribers stood at 12,000. The main program available on Video News is Maru-geki Talk On Demand and News Commentary, both anchored by Jimbo and sociologist Shinji Miyadai. Past guests have included big names such as Japan’s prime minister and cabinet members. Staff meetings decide what topics to investigate, but the line-up can be changed in the event a major news story comes up. In March 2011, a camera team was sent in to report on the devastation of the Japan Earthquake for a special report.
Many media organisations wanting to test the water with paid-for content have opted for a metered model. They identify content or services that have perceived value to certain users but allow some content or services to remain free. This metered model combining free and premium has become widely known as freemium (Lukin 2006). It was espoused by Chris Anderson as a way of trading in on the abundance and distribution of the networked landscape while still holding on to some mechanism to charge for the scarcity, or the top-end products. For example, Storyful.com based in Ireland sells curation and fact-checking of social media content to traditional news outlets who no longer seem to have the time and/or the skills for verifying breaking news from the social web. It is basically a new kind of news agency, but they allow the basic functionality to be open for all.
UK-based Audioboo’s key strategy is to see themselves not “as an Internet disruptor: we want to work closely with and complement existing media models in news and new areas”. The business model is largely based on a freemium model. There are 400,000 users of which 5,000 have joined Audioboo plus. It is aimed at loyal users and podcasters. The Plus tier, costing £60 annually, comes with 30 minutes recording time, updates to Facebook pages and extra iTunes podcast settings. The revenue model also relies on paying for content: like audio books and book chapters where they take a 30% cut. Audioboo pro is license deals – they want to work with big corporations to see what they can offer to those media companies who already have significant audiences.
French-based Citizenside also tiers its services. There are three main revenue streams: a revenue share with users from selling work (based on 65% for sales in the same country as production: 50% abroad); one off direct media sales to media outlets; and through a Pro service, much like a syndication, offered to bigger players. The site captures the multimedia interpretations of everyday news events. The site aims to create the largest online community of amateur and independent reporters where everyone can share their vision of the news by uploading photos and videos. It was launched in France in 2006 and has 70,000 members in 150 countries. The inspiration for the site came after the London Tube bombings when iconic images from witnesses such as Adam Stacey made the rounds on the international press after being posted to Wikinews and Moblog.co.uk. The site’s main success has been in empowering citizens to earn money from their work. Major news brands have an advantage because they have brand recognition and platforms that are sophisticated but they don’t have the nimbleness of thinking or the speed and agility of a start-up (Trippenbach 2011).
There was some evidence of affiliate marketing being adopted by the media managers in the database but this was found to be something that had limited scope and evidence of high revenue yields. Many niche sites had adopted Amazon Associate schemes, or similar (in which the site choose products displayed from Amazon catalogue and collect fees from the purchases made trough the site) but there was little evidence of significant revenues. The advice was more to choose affiliate schemes where the products being sold were larger, to justify a higher percentage cut. Chasing the “big sell” was the only real way to generate significant revenue. ThisFrenchLife editor Craig McGinty notes: “Affiliate services that are tightly focussed around questions from readers can work, so you have to keep a close eye on the discussions on the site and tying that in with potential product sales. I help readers by asking them directly what services or products they may be interested in but I also try to include an affiliate or spin-off to a smaller site where those discussions can be aired in more detail.”
Germany’s Perlentaucher has a business model which is highly dependent on online advertising, which brings in “at least 80 percent of the total revenues”. Additionally, Perlentaucher generates book sales with commissions it gets from a major German online bookseller Buecher.de; all the book reviews on Perlentaucher are linked exclusively to Buecher.de and every purchase originating from perlentaucher.de merits a commission. Buecher.de also publishes Perlentaucher’s content directly on its website.
There was scope within the database to document those startups who were using donations as a revenue source. As detailed from the start, those startups which relied entirely on angel funding, one-off grants, payouts of some kind from governments or other such research or philanthropic means were discounted from the database as our aim was to focus on sustainability. However, where donations were part of a sustainable revenue source they were included.
Since crowdfunding came under the spotlight with initiatives such as Kickstarter.com and Spot.US more news startups have given it consideration, if not as the business model overall but for one-off projects. It is a system where small payments from a large community can generate enough revenue to fund a story or investigation. It is a crowdfunding initiative which supports J’aime L’info for example in France. Crowdfunding is powered by micropayments and is, as such, based on pay as you go.
There were only a few outlets that used crowdfunding as their source of revenue in our database. Germany’s Netzpolitik.org receives (through microdonation site Flattr) about €400 worth of donations per month. The site has around 30,000 daily readers interested in how the Internet changes politics and how politics changes the Internet. During some especially ignited political debates readership can rise up to 50,000 per day. The advertising revenues and microdonations (run through Flattr) bring enough income to cover the salaries of 1,5 employees.
OurPlanetTV in Japan is a non-profit alternative media organization that develops its own documentary and interview shows, and uploads them onto the Internet. Although the group reports on a variety of social issues, its main focus is reporting on everyday life issues. Using community groups, movements, and labour organizations as their information sources, OurPlanetTV documents things happening in local areas and communities, mainly through videos. It operates as a non-profit organization. The website has diversified its revenue sources to include membership fees, donations, and contract project production costs from films, some DVD sales of films produced, or seminar fees.
Selling data and services
Much academic discussion has turned to the opportunities afforded by the Internet for niche sites or outputs (Anderson 2006). Some of the most promising sites in terms of the originality of business models, however, have found a way to carve out a niche in the long tail of supply (Cook 2012). These represented some of the most original startups in that their products appear to be more born of the net rather than on it. Here, startups have found ways to generate revenues by selling services or content. This can be either public or business facing. Here, the revenue is generated by startups who have found a niche as part of the value chain of journalistic production, so they may take raw content and add value by curating, filtering, or writing and interpretation. In each case, the revenue can be generated by upselling to other media organisations or direct to users.
Hellapoliisi is a privately owned company, located in Helsinki, Finland. Hellapoliisi.fi is a website which concentrates on food – it publishes recipes and articles of novelty items. The revenue comes from recipes and food photography that Kati sells to food companies. She also publishes books containing recipes. Hellapoliisi.fi has also banner advertisements but they do not bring in a substantial income. The owner, Kati Jaakonen, also produces recipe books and food related games. Hellapoliisi (loosely translated as the Stove Police) blogsite started as a hobby. Kati Jaakonen, a cook by profession, founded a food blog around 2006 – 2007 in order to offer photos of her pastry and recipes for people interested in food and cooking. The site became popular very rapidly by offering good recipes for free. The content on the site is still free for visitors.
China Files is an independent, multimedia news-agency based in Beijing which focusses on the coverage of China-related issues. Its main products are journalistic content (in any format: breaking news, long-form stories, video and audio bulletins, interactive features) and supplementary services (press roundups, press office and social media consultancy, etc). Services and content supply constitutes the main stream of revenue of China Files (around $ 25,000 per month). Currently, China Files has among its clients more than 30 Italian and Spanish-speaking news outlets (print, radio, broadcasting and online).
In the UK, Notonthewires is an alternative news provider priding itself on in-depth coverage of otherwise untold stories, analysis and insight. It is a multimedia production platform with an innovative content management system. While Notonthewires has ceased publication in 2012, selling content-based subscriptions to mainstream organisations notably in Argentina that needed international stories was one revenue source.
Talk to the Press is an example of how news agencies can have added their reach online. The business model is traditional in the sense that tip-offs or story ideas are sourced and written, and then sold on to mainstream news organisations with the agency making a premium. The difference is that social and online media make it easier for people to get in touch, and find the site through search engines, making the sources more numerous. They pay people depending on the value of their story in the upsell chain. Citizenside uses one-off sales to bigger media as one of its revenue sources. For example, the startup helped sell on exclusive video footage of the fashion guru John Galliano having a racist rant sourced by one of their contributors. It was sold to The Sun in 2011 earning the citizen reporter a substantial sum (enough for an Audi).
Tweetminster in the UK works in curation of content from the social web. It gathers news and opinion around any topic, industry or market, and then analyzes what trends are important. It sells this service to larger media organisations as part of its business model. Italy’s Youreporter generates some revenues selling video and special editions of content. Effecinque in Italy is a news startup working on the development of innovative applications and offering multimedia content to the largest Italian news publications. F5 main products are web-native format (social media news gathering, live coverage, data journalism projects) and visual features (motion graphic videos, interactive infographics). F5 works only as a sub-contractor, so revenues come mainly from content supply as well as training and consulting.
This has been a growth area in the UK particularly. Blottr is a citizen journalism news service that enables anyone to capture, report and collaborate on news they are witnessing from mobile to web instantly. It is an open platform for anyone anywhere and thus specialises in breaking news all over the world. In terms of content, Blottr is a visible part of the rising citizen journalism movement, but it makes most of its revenue by selling the technology that powers its own platform. Any other company can buy Blottr’s platform as a white label product and use it as their own to harness the possibilities of user-generated content and conversation. Adam Baker, CEO, cites “We’ve got some great technology that powers Blottr, so we license it as a white label to other publishers to enable their users to be contributors as well as consumers. To give you an example, one of our customers is a cosmetic surgery magazine that’s got 12 000 of the world’s best cosmetic surgeons reading their content. With our technology powering their site they’re able to get those users to contribute as well.” The site was launched in Germany and France in November 2011, with moves planned for further market expansion. Notonthewires had plans to work in a similar way as there was also scope to sell the content management system, which had been developed bespoke.
Tweetminster is a news platform in the UK. It curates news and opinion around any topic, industry or market. It’s a media platform that helps people and organizations discover the most relevant content about their personal interest by dynamically analyzing and organizing in real-time what networks and experts of influence around any topic, industry or market are paying attention to. The site has functionality to analyze what experts on anything are paying attention to in real-time. The site’s basic curation services are freely available as part of its public service mandate but clients can pay for bespoke functionality – from Formula 1 to trading in the Middle East. It was originally launched as a service to help people follow politicians on Twitter. They work with Reuters, BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, etc. The services are integrated within these sites. It depends on the financial deal whether or not Tweetminster is actually visible on the site. The license to use the software is sold as it is API.
Many sites have diversified to run events, freelancing and training. Several sites have looked to leverage their own experiences and know how into a revenue stream. Ticket sales and spin off revenue incomes from events are proving to be a lucrative diversification for many startups whose raison d’etre is editorial. The community building that can come from hosting events in real life spins off into the editorial and back again. Finland’s ArcticStartup is a community based media organization focused on promoting new startup companies in the field of digital, mobile and web-based business. On their website, they publish daily 4-5 stories concerning startup-business in Nordic countries and Baltic region. In addition to stories they publish job advertisements on their site. Over half of ArcticStartups revenue comes from conferences that they organize in the capital cities of Nordic and Baltic regions. To the conferences they sell tickets and stands. The conferences create an opportunity for participants to network. The role of the website is to uphold and create a community, who attend to the conferences, and the conferences make it possible to finance the publishing.
Journalism.co.uk is a digital B2B website serving journalists and media professionals in the UK. It offers news services about industry movers and shakers, directories and advice/panels. The business, Mousetrap Media, now also runs news:rewired events as a spin-off from the website, which are a key part of the brand. The events have become the second most important source of revenue (behind job listing and classified advertising). News: rewired are sold at £130 per ticket. John Thompson, publisher and owner, cites: “This is the one event when you can get involved in and have a direct/intellectual crafting of this event. It leads to direct revenues: we do it for commercial reasons. In this way the editorial is funding revenue. Ad sales can sell around that. Commercial conversations start in editorial and then get passed over and vice versa. If the business were going under it would be the events that I would rescue. It is the events that adds value to a business, an editorial business especially.”
Freelancing and training
Several sites have looked to leverage their own experiences and know how into a revenue stream. Journalism.co.uk for example offer editorial courses and training through a revenue share agreement. A trainer comes to the site to propose a course, detailing the overheads and proposed ticket price, and the site usually negotiates 2/3 for them and 1/3 for Journalism.co.uk. Varese News is an online-only local newspaper, often described as one of the best in Italian new media landscape. Founded in 1997 and having survived the dot-com bubble, it gradually became the most read publication in the Varese area, surpassing even the well-established local daily La Prealpina. They sell freelancing services, consulting and training.
Italy’s FpS was established in 2009 as a cooperative of 17 students (today reduced to 11) from the Journalism School “Walter Tobagi” of Milan University, assisted by one expert tutor. They started off as subcontractors or freelancers for national newspapers, developing content for their websites and TV and radio programs. Then they specialized also in business communication (Press Office 2.0, corporate blogging, web-development) and today they mostly develop web projects for large companies. They turned over 210,000 euros in 2011.
Finnish Asymco is a technology-oriented blog and business, owned by a former Nokia analyst Horace Dediu, who is based in Helsinki, Finland. The blog has a large international audience and Dediu is very well respected especially as an Apple analyst. Initially, he planned to do app development, and the blog was intended as a way to promote that business. However, soon he found out that the type of work that was requested from the blog turned out to be more management consulting. He obtained some consulting engagements within three months from starting the blog and that is still the primary source of income for him. Asymco also arranges conferences. Occasionally Pekka Värre of Urheiluviikko.net consults other companies in the subject of web journalism and articles written by Värre or one of Urheiluviikko’s freelancers are sometimes traded for other companies’ services.
Douglas McLennan, the publisher or Artsjournal.com in the US, did more than 60 talks around the country and flew more than 200,000 miles in 2010. Half of the revenue based on ArtsJournal comes through these engagements. Although McLennan didn’t see the consulting opportunity first, it came to him naturally. He goes through hundreds of articles and news items about art in general every day while aggregating the best content to ArtsJournal.com. By reading all those articles he has become one of the best experts on art world and the current trends around the world. This is why McLennan says it is very important to keep your eyes open when you are looking for revenue sources. They might appear from places you didn’t realize existed at all.
This was not widely used as a revenue source by the startups in the database. However there were examples where merchandise or other spin-offs are being sold. This is often as an “extra” revenue source but builds on possibilities harnessed by larger players such as Aftonbladet, one of the biggest daily newspapers in the Nordic countries, which has had success running a weight-loss club and with e-commerce, selling vuvuzelas during the 2010 World Cup. Talktothepress agency in the UK has sold books and seminars, while Audioboo has built its revenue model to include the potential to host and disseminate audio books and book chapters, where they take a 30% cut.
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