Lessons from a Digital Newspaper Now Making Money

In late April, I wrote about The Media’s ‘Post-Advertising’ Future (advertising’s not enough to sustain publications, subscriptions will prove necessary for most publications, and “[t]he key lesson for publishers is to offer sharp (and sometimes sharp-tongued) writing, to see that content is king”).  (A word about FREE WHITEWATER.  This website accepts no advertising, requires no subscription, and never will.  For-profit publications with employees don’t have that luxury.)    

As it turns out, The Guardian in Britain (with a focus on American topics) shows how one can succeed as a digital medium.  Joshua Benton, writing at NiemanLab, tells the tale in Want to see what one digital future for newspapers looks like? Look at The Guardian, which isn’t losing money anymore.

Benton describes The Guardian:

The Guardian is a weird newspaper.

Most newspapers don’t have nearly two-thirds of their readers coming from outside the country they’re based in.

Most newspapers don’t start in one city and then move to another one.

Most newspapers aren’t owned by a trust that mandates they promote“liberal journalism both in Britain and elsewhere.”

And most newspapers don’t lose money year after year after year. Sure, some papers that are run by rich men more interested in influence than profit, and some families have chosen to rank civic duty above the bottom line. But in the main, when revenues decline at a newspaper, costs get cut — cut to the point that whatever profit level the owner seeks gets met. Most newspapers that consistently lose money die.

And yet The Guardian is, here again, an especially noteworthy exception.

Benton also lists a few keys to success (for any for-profit digital publication):

We’ve been writing here for a long time about the difficult transition newspapers are making (or not making) to digital. If you had to define a few key financial landmarks papers need to hit along the way, you might pick these three taken from Ken Doctor pieces early this decade:

In all of this, one needs compelling content, sharp and interesting, to attract, retain, and increase readership.

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