Case study: Not on the Wires (UK)

The name of the publication and / or company

Not on the Wires


April 2010

Web Address

Form of the company

Ltd. Exploring to changing to social enterprise .

Describe your site or business in few words.

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.

Presented through eye-catching photography, video and innovative interactive features – the team investigate the other side of a rapidly changing world. Part of the strategy is to publish less often but higher quality, which can be as little as once a month but they are avoiding the news agenda.

Not on the Wires is updated throughout the year from its headquarters, Silk Road Studios in London. Led by its co-founders, it has a network of contributors reporting from São Paulo to Tashkent, Cape Town to Buenos Aires, and the network is growing. The sell is “It’s your world, discover more about it with us.”

The general business plan is based on a growing understanding that young people are starting to think outside of the box.”

Staff numbers

Who’s creating the content

Content creators, paid full-time

2 – co founders, not drawing any salary. They draw from it when there is a commission or a project.

Content creators, paid freelancers

Yes, project by project basis.

Content creators, unpaid

20 around the world. About one piece each a year.

How is your time divided between doing business and content?

“The best move we made was to pass some of the commercial stuff onto someone else. I am now 60 commercial 40 editorial, with a focus on looking after PR and marketing We also have a non executive board comprising of people such as David Hayward from the BBC college of Journalism and one of the head at CNN, someone from Reuters, Al Jazeera, the Guardian and others. They were put in place after we formed and although we have never put them all together, they are invaluable for guidance and checks. “

Business, marketing & sales, paid full-time

1 on a small commission basis.


How they make money

Revenue models and sustainability

Would you say your business model is sustainable?

“It is very early days but yes.

We are increasingly approaching commercial enterprises and getting them to do journalism projects. In that sense we have one foot in both doors. We try to stay balanced. We can be fully transparent about it. I realized from working on a niche finance website that you can use a niche audience and get more in depth studies sponsored.

We have never claimed to be mainstream: we are trying to do niche investigations. A bit like Monocle magazine – but less pretentious and younger

We have unique users – 6-8000 a month. The user base is not just from the UK and they are high spending with more on a Mac than a PC. We have a good email subscriber base of 300 but many are senior people and when they do come on the site, they get immersed, lost in it which is what we want. “

How much is your yearly or monthly revenue?

Aprox £15,000 in first year (24.000 USD)

Where does your revenue go?

Not on the Wires launched its new studio facility, Silk Road Studios, on Thursday July 28th 2011. Setting up and web maintenance and wages.

How much do you pay to your contributors?

“We can’t pay them individually or regularly but when they are involved in projects they do. Also, if PR  agencies ask us to do copy writing then they get first refusal on paid work. I do believe people should be paid.”

What about profit?

“It might be to pay contributors. It is about quality people not quality stories. It is really hard when you are not paying especially when copy comes in from abroad as we have to spend a long time cleaning and editing it. We all have to do other work at the moment to sustain the project. It is more about pushing the profile at the moment rather than tiny bits of content. “

What kind of services you sell?

We sell freelancing, both journalism and non journalism as well as training, consulting, speaking, events, design and coaching.

“A major source of revenue is events. We had a small story telling conference event to launch the new studio and we did do something different. We didn’t talk about business models instead we talked about story telling from the positive side, and it was really well received. Although the event was free to enter, we raised £2,500 of sponsorship for the event which was really good.”

“We have had talks about syndication – content based. There are local media in Argentina that need international stories.

We are in talks with Open Democracy, they speak very well on other heavy issues and to academics but not to other people. So we may partner with them for video and we get access to their best contributors. We would do video and condense it down to be more manageable and accessible to wider audiences. We are also talking to Global Voices, to reach out to more people. We are in talks with TEDx. We are not allowed to make money from that but it is profile building. I was sent to Argentina on a trade mission with the British Embassy after they had heard about one of our projects and I spoke at a national congress but I got to spread the word and do some training.”

“We have had a lot of freebies that we have given out, like bottles of whiskey and Portugal wine from an exporter; they are going to pay for us to look into the Portuguese wine industry and influences from China. This maybe a softer commercial benefit but it is still value.”

What kind of virtual or physical products you sell?

Software, plugins or apps, video, reports, books and merchandise.

“We have an innovative content management system. It is something we developed in-house and it is really good with meta data and allows us limitless ways of linking content together. The content management system is open source but the business model fo that is for custom versions and selling support.

We don’t think advertising works so we are going down a project based route. We are in talks for example with a big credit card company for a long term data journalism project on youth spending for them. They can provide the data but we will run the investigative project.

We are hiring the studio out. I am the most skilled in video production so we built it to be used by other websites, particularly finance. We invite them to come and film at our studio.”

“£4,500 from the British Council Bureau for investigative journalism commissioned us for £4,000 for website build and another 1000 on support. The BBC College of Journalism commissioned aprox £1,000.”

Do you see your publication as your main product?

“The main model is the website and running journalism projects. We have done two projects for the British Council. They have paid us to do media training in Uzbekistan and then we have done a project for the website from there. We have done stuff for the BBC College of journalism on mobile journalism – and we wrote for their website and video to go on there. We also see this as associated businesses – a network. Often Japanese firms are not always linked in equity but they are in a strategic group with all different things but they all support one another. That is how we see this. They are grouping that way. This is run on a similar basis with one of the ideas we formed. It is a shop front for the technology and skills we have. OWNI does a similar thing.

The whole project was born out of a G20 City University project. And then we were asked by Reuters to cover the Berlin Wall anniversary. It was from that we wanted to develop – commissioned projects.

Notonthewires is the main product but we are about to change. We are renaming the website itself to Vox. The way things are going with commissions we feel the name doesn’t work well for people with other languages so the company will stay the same for training and commercial ventures but the website we are planning to relaunch with podcasts.

As for the website, content is really a big problem for us in terms of the quality. It has been a real personal journey and when we started with G20 and Reuters, but as we have matured as young journalists we realise we are on a level playing field with everyone. With more of a business the only way is up to be niche. We want to be more analytical and business to business – be more reflective and quality not reactionary. “

What would be the most important thing on your road to sustainability?

“We need to have a safety net. We haven’t made oodles of money but it is high-tech and it is difficult. The hardest part is having talent and holding on to them. It is a vicious cycle. I need you but I can’t pay for you.

If someone could just write me a cheque for £50,000 that would change everything. It is difficult to get the money up front and then even when you get commissions you have to wait 60 days for the rest. starter money. I am definitely feeling more confident and the EU is increasingly aware. They are more aware that mainstream is not the future and that with a fragmented business model that incorporates training, projects, commercial and all those other strands we will have a chance.”