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Posts Tagged ‘digital subscriptions’

Do We Still Need Byliner?

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 9.26.16 AMEarlier this month, we learned that Byliner, the digital longform journalism platform launched in 2011, is looking for partners to continue sustaining its operation.

An email to contributors, published originally by PandoDaily, reads:

“We’ve struggled to reach the level of growth we’d been hoping for the business, and thus we’ve begun conversations with possible partners about the future of Byliner. We’re working to find a good home for our platform and your stories, and we’ll be in touch shortly with specifics about your titles.”

Not good news. Since then, co-founder Mark Bryant, executive editor Laura Hohnhold and now co-founder/CEO John Tayman have found the exit door at Byliner, a San Francisco startup. At this point, contributors are left wondering what Byliner’s fate will be, and the company — once lauded as a paradigm for longform journalism online — must rely on partners to boost Byliner.

But the more important question may be, ‘Do we still need Byliner?’ Perhaps Byliner’s troubles underscore a general sense of apathy toward longform, or highlight a lessening need for long publishers like this one.

On the other hand, outfits like The Big Roundtable and The New New South have popped up over the last year, BuzzFeed is taking longform more seriously and Longreads is still hanging on (and they don’t even require subscriptions like Byliner does). Aeon and Matter/Medium commission longform that performs well, and The Atavist relies in part on the licensing sales of its software platform The Creativist to be successful financially.

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The New York Times Hits The (Pay)Wall

Last Thursday, the New York Times released a bleak report that indicated weak revenues throughout the first quarter of 2013. But bleaker still is the dismal reporting from the paywall: this quarter saw the weakest growth from its digital subscriber base, raising just 5.6% to 676,000 total users.

The new subscriber base for the Times has slowed considerably year-over-year, but this is the first time that growth dipped under 10%.

This graph, developed by Quartz, shows the progression from the last year:

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Kickstarting Journalism and Climate Change Reporting

I never thought Veronica Mars and long form reporting on climate change had anything in common, but it turns out, they both have the same business model. You want it? You’ll have to pony up for it.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has been reporting on nuclear weapons, power, disarmament and general military issues surrounding it since 1945, sustains itself with a combination of digital subscriptions, individual donations, and foundational philanthropy. This spring, William and Eleanor Revelle, who’ve led the clean energy cause and have supported The Bulletin with donations and insight on their editorial board, are offering a Challenge Gift. They’ll grant $50,000 and match every donation made to the Bulletin until May 31, 2013 in the hope of raising $100,000 to be used toward reporting on climate change. A week after announcing the challenge, $10,000 has already been raised and Bulletin publisher Kennette Benedict is hopeful that they’ll meet their goal.

It’s a good example of what news organizations need to do to thrive. Here’s why it works:

1) Diversity is Key

According to Benedict, donations and grants like this make her journal work. Individual donations makes up about 20% of their revenues. Ten percent is from subscriptions to digital content and the rest is from philanthropy. When the Post announced its paywall yesterday, the internet was already lamenting its ‘leaks.’

But that is sort of the point. When advertising just doesn’t work, subscription and membership models have to be dynamic. We’ll see how the Post works out this summer. But for niche news, like the Bulletin, there should be options. The Bulletin offers some content, like roundtables and short articles for free. You can buy single articles. Or you can subscribe to the full digital version, as an individual or as an organization. Since their news is, well, news-worthy, they offer free subscriptions for media personnel. So a journalist reporting on climate change or nuclear power can get research from the Bulletin experts.

2) Stay on Your Beat

But to depend on donations from readers, you have to offer good content. Veronica Mars’ Kickstarter campaign worked because they had not just a fan base, but a script ready for pre-production and the big name stars to offer. You can’t start from scratch. Likewise with news. Read more

Can’t We All Just Subscribe? Why ‘Paywalls’ Won’t Get Us Anywhere

Circling in my head this week are two media bits that I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to if I wasn’t still mulling over the state of paid journalism.

The first was an email from Pro Publica, on the tail of its release of “Dollars for Docs,” asking for a donation to help continue the good work. The second was a blog post you can read here about what newspaper execs should really say to users about paywalls.

And here is my conclusion: we have got to stop using the word ‘paywall.’ Now there will be some of you that are in the ‘information wants to be free,’ camp. That’s fine when it comes to transparency and politics, but not so great a business model for news pubs. So let’s stop talking about putting up walls to keep people out. The paywall has only led to griping from consumers who’ve reached their monthly article limit, and unique ways to get around them. We’re wordsmiths, we know words matter, and ‘paywall’ is another relic of the old media-new media debate. Knock it off.

Why can’t we just call it what it is? A subscription. Of course, many in the industry have finally started calling subscriptions (see what I did there?) what they are: a quick fix to make balance sheets look better. They add another revenue source, and that’s it.

Raju Narisetti said in an interview this week:

You have to think of it as a revenue stream from your most loyal people that will help, because it’s a little bit of an annuity, if you will, that will help soften the blow of what’s happening to CPMs of most papers and what’s happening to advertising. It will cushion the blow, it’ll create a new revenue stream, and in time could create more loyalty and potential upselling opportunities for ebooks and events and things like that. But it’s just going to be that — it’s going to be a stream of revenue that you didn’t have, but it’s not going to solve your problems. If anybody out there thinks a paywall is going to solve our industry’s problems in itself, they’re in for a very rude surprise.

Fine, a subscription model can’t be it. And there has to be a way, eventually, to figure out how to make digital dollars with advertising, too. But I think you have to be really cynical about humanity to just assume that no one is going to want to read interesting, enlightening, meaningful content on all the cool toys that tablets will spawn. And that it will be paid for. And that there will be the same sort of selection – from the soapy, poorly targeted tabloids to the wonky and elitist journals — that we  used to have on newsstands. Call me idealist. Call me naive. At least I’m not defeatist.

Members Only

The internet has spawned niche news. Read more

Paid Content Model to Expand in Europe

“What we are trying to do is set up the biggest paid content experiment of all,” said Tomáš Bella, CEO of Piano Media. Addressing The Guardian’s Changing Media Summit on Wednesday, Bella talked about the mindset of the company as one that looks beyond the dualism of paid vs. unpaid—a mindset that seems to be paying off. The system allows readers to pay for access to a group of participating publishers. So far, the experiment has yielded promising results in the smaller markets of Slovakia and Slovenia: people are more likely to pay for this sort of inclusive paywall as opposed to paying for individual ones. The payment system has had no negative impact on traffic, and surprisingly, people even paid for content that was already free. “It is definitely not the articles we are selling,” said Bella, “we are selling peace of mind.” He likened it to the cable TV model of paying for a lot of channels, where most subscribers don’t watch most of the channels. Read more

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