The business model of journalism is currently in the state of evolvement. How do consumption habits change in countries with limited and difficult access to news? Discussing these, as a result, we left The Hague with an improved overview of where the business models of journalism are heading around the world!
How did we get 15 worldwide journalists into one room?
The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) was hosted in the Netherlands for the first time, and had invited a delegation of 15 international journalists from platforms such as Al Jazeera and The New York Times to attend the summit and learn. Hence, the RVO hosted a programme for them under “new business models and tech in journalism” - where we graciously accepted the invitation to come present and engage with these journalists on June 3rd 2019.
Some general background on these journalists - vastly-experienced in the field while focusing on projects aiming to report on political/socioeconomic issues and founding local media platforms.
How far can business models fit in journalism?
Alex, co-founder and CTO of Katalysis, began with a swift presentation of our Track and Trace for content abilities, and moved into a live demo of Feather. We had delegated roughly 30 minutes for this part, but it clearly gathered a lot of interest from our audience and opened up some very relevant discussions. They began with the specificities of product features, e.g. our commission rates, using different currencies, our API, which platforms we support, and what are the differences among PayPal/WooCommerce and Feather. This kickstarted some deeper questions about the capabilities of Feather that we don't come by too often.
One journalist was intrigued about the possibility of “localising the pricing of content”. For example, an article released for £1 in the UK could be purchased for a price that readers in a different country could attach the same value (e.g. available for ₹30, about 25 pence, in India). We further explored how the value of content differs per country later down the line!
Another discussion was stemmed from the fact that we leave all the power of decision-making to the owner of the content platform, in terms of business model. The audience asked, based on the following screenshot of the Feather wallet: if readers subscribe for 1 month, the price of the article (€0.63) changes.
This led to a nice discussion over the “watering-down” of the value of content, as paying a one-time fee to access all content would essentially depreciate the one time cost of the same article. There was minimal visualisation of the sustainability or dependence on the pay-per-article model, but showed some promise in converting audiences to subscribers.
I had a look at my watch as the discourse moved towards country-specific journalism environments and issues, and almost an hour had gone by! We had planned a panel and Q&A session with a freelance journalist from the Netherlands, Krijn Soeteman, but we thought the momentum of the discourse was great and decided to continue to focus more on engaging with the audience.
As an independent journalist, Krijn's insights were welcomed by the audience, given his direct experience in a vastly different environment to theirs. One aspect of this I took away was how the Dutch audience is willing to pay for big platforms such as NRC & de Volkskrant, while they could optimise their paywall to demand less of the reader.
Readers are different everywhere
After a quick break, we resumed by delving into each journalist’s working environment and knowledge of how readers in their respective countries behave. Here are some of the areas where we found extremely intriguing insights:
Pakistan: A feature inquiry was if we can track the sharing of articles via WhatsApp. An interesting question; our view is that it is possible to track the incoming traffic and how many readers arrived from WhatsApp, but we cannot track the number of shares of the article nor who shared it on WhatsApp. He explained that this is a dominant player in the spreading of news and articles among Pakistani readers. This is interesting as it aligns with some findings of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019, which indicates how non-Western countries use WhatsApp as a primary platform to both share and discuss news.
We also learnt that written news is often provided in English there, but not everyone is able to read the language. Hence, a lot of news consumption is also done through audio and video, often in Urdu or another local language.
Egypt: Readers mainly consume from 1 news source online (no subscriptions or paid media - only for free!). The predominant issue that the rest of the country’s content producers are going through is press freedom: laws passed last year highly regulate and scrutinise both private and public media. This article covers the problem quite well if interested!
West Africa: A lot of payments made locally are done through mobile phones. Cryptocurrencies are slowly picking up steam. A lot of users there do not have easy access to bank accounts let alone payment cards.
Indonesia: The journalism economy is a bit more mature in this region, as the business models of pay-per-article and subscriptions are active, while crowdfunding & donations are slowly picking up. Additionally, the majority of platforms still function from advertisement revenue.
Uganda: Here newspapers are often purchased by one person and shared within the community. The appetite for payment of news is low, as there is an expectation that the newspaper will be shared.
Nicaragua: Independent journalism has also recently come under scrutiny here, in terms of freedom and political rights. However, there is still a demand from the public for this content! Hence, the business models of subscriptions and membership have risen in desire for collaboration and community as media outlets have found ways to continue serving content!
To conclude, our group left the venue with a much brighter perspective on the current events, issues and opportunities in the journalism world! Different places have different consumption patterns, while different business models are effective in different journalism “beats”. What I was particularly happy about was the level of interaction and engagement of these journalists, which was invaluable given their success and local experiences. I also thought we could empathise with each other's perspectives and offer anecdotal value as well.
A special thanks to Krijn Soeteman for joining us, all the respective journalists for their participation and insights and the RVO for inviting us for this event!