The SuBMoJour study maps sustainable journalistic startups in nine countries. It includes an online database detailing the business models of these entrepreneurial sites (www.SuBMoJour.net) and an accompanying narrative analysis. The study supports research to date that online environments offer the necessary market characteristics for niche journalistic sites and content production. There is a rich and diverse set of media case studies in the database, all with their unique interpretation of serving communities or reportage. The study maps the business models of journalistic startups firstly within national settings, thus allowing for a comparison between countries, and secondly in terms of revenue models. It includes 69 case studies gathered by semi-structured interviews over 12 months by an international team of researchers.
In our findings the business models of the cases fall into two main categories: those which have storytelling-orientated business models and those which 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. 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 ex- ample 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.
The project was able to identify several revenue sources used. In advertising, display was the most widely used source including cost per view, cost per click as well as weekly rates, ad networks and sponsorship. Paywalls, subscriptions and freemium models were evidenced as methods to charge for content. Less common were revenue sources such as affiliate marketing, donations, selling data or services, organizing events, freelancing and training or selling merchandise. 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. As such, while there may be a lack of new revenue sources among startups, there is potential innovation in new business models by way of com- bining revenue sources in new and interesting ways to make sites profitable in the long term.
Most of our cases are not challenging the legacy media, rather supplementing it by serving smaller niche audiences or finding a place in the media ecosystem as suppliers of niche content to bigger media outlets. Finding a new place in the supply and demand chain of news can become an important feature of some pure players. Grassroots product development is also an area of increasing interest. Cases within this study support a growing trend for innovative platforms, either within the app economy, multimedia or mobile.
The project aims to increase the resources on which media entrepreneurs can draw acknowledging the growing likelihood for journalists to work alongside, within or indeed create such entities. The report also offers advice for those who are planning to start their own journalistic site. For example it is crucial to keep your costs low, team small and master many skills – including entrepreneurial thinking and building relationships with the advertisers from the start. It is also important to know the niche that you are serving and build the concept so that the site offers more valuable content or services for the users than competitors.
We want to thank the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation for funding this project and supporting us in various ways during our work. We also want to thank the Academy of Finland’s MOTIVE-program for supporting professor Mikihito Tanaka’s visit to Finland in Spring 2012. Research Centre COMET wants to thank USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and Wase- da University Graduate School of Journalism for a fruitful cooperation in the SuBMoJour-project.