How does your news organisation make money?

The answer can tell you a thing or two about the interests they serve and the kind of stories they do.

ByChitranshu Tewari
How does your news organisation make money?
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A few months ago, we did a survey with our subscribers at Newslaundry. To understand our readers’ interests, among other things, the survey included questions on how many news outlets readers follow, how much news they consume, and how much they know about the outlets they source their daily news consumption from. We hoped media literacy would be considerably higher among our Newslaundry readers, and sure enough it was interesting to see that our subscribers knew enough about the kind of stories, technology and revenue models—basically, how the company generates revenue to sustain its operations—their news sources employ.

The same can’t be said about readers across the board, though. With social media as the primary source of all our daily news, we hardly know the outlet it comes from—let alone details like revenue models, or which beats the outlet is known for. The beats are important, which we’ll look at later.

This is compounded by the fact that even in conversations on news media in India, revenue models and their implications hardly figure. We limit it to discussing editorial challenges, tech breakthroughs, and how to make the most of Facebook and Twitter.

For both news professionals and consumers, knowing how a certain organisation is making money is essential for obvious reasons—there is a direct link to the interests they are going to serve. For instance, an ad-based digital media outlet will always prefer clickbait over ground stories. Airport fashion and Page 3 parties feature in the “entertainment” section of homepages for a reason. A reader-supported model would have more incentive to chase good stories and reports that readers will find value in contributing to.

But this is not to endorse one model above the other. We just need to be smart and aware enough to make choices as news consumers. It’s similar to how we’d want to buy ethically-made or -sourced, and products with no links to sweatshops in China and Bangladesh. Or how someone conscious of her carbon footprint would know why she’d prefer to buy locally-grown food.

Plus, the rapid changes in technology that aid newsrooms and how we consume news has forced publishers and news organisations to innovate with revenue models as well. Organisations today have revenue streams that are often aligned with the beat they report on and the reader base they cater to. Take ProPublica and De Correspondent, for instance. While both are reader-supported models, ProPublica engages with and sees active participation of readers in their reporting—from understanding health insurance to scrutinising political campaign ads on Facebook. On the other hand, De Correspondent rejects the daily news grind altogether, and focuses on in-depth reportage.

Back in India, we’re already seeing successful models away from the conventional ad-based, CPM models. The Ken is a bright example of this. They do just one in-depth story each weekday, and have become profitable within two years of starting out.

Revenue models are often linked directly to the kind of stories and programming publishers do. In the clutter of digital news publishers, Scroll has diligently covered books and authors, and earned a reader base that comes to Scroll for book reviews and readings on culture. No wonder then that Scroll chose books to try its hands on appellate marketing—they get a cut from Amazon every time someone ends up at Amazon from the books listed in Scroll’s bookshop.

These are just a few examples. Courtesy the disruptions in tech, there are dozens of monetisation and revenue streams—from display and native advertising, to content licensing and membership models. So the next time you read a story on your social feed, don’t forget to ask yourself: how are they making money? Because that will tell you enough to know the interests the publishers serve and the kind of they do.

Oh, and yes, don’t forget to attend Raju Narisetti’s presentation at The Media Rumble.

And the panel discussion on post-advertising business models.

Register at themediarumble.com.

Date: August 3 & August 4 

Venue: India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

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Complaining about the media is easy and often justified. But hey, it’s the model that’s flawed.

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