November 17th, 2021
A note from Ludovic Blecher, Head of Google News Initiative Innovation: The GNI Innovation Challenge program is designed to stimulate forward-thinking ideas for the news industry. The story below by Ragamalika Karthikeyan, Editor Special Projects & Experiments at The News Minute, is part of an innovator series sharing inspiring stories and learnings from funded projects.
It was 2018, and the south Indian state of Kerala was reeling from the worst floods in a century. The floods hit on August 15 — India’s Independence Day. The media’s attention was focused on the holiday, and even as the crisis in Kerala became more and more critical, the floods were relegated to a small feature on the national news. In a country as large and diverse as India, it’s difficult to represent everything happening on any given day. This is what motivated us to launch The News Minute (TNM) in 2014. From its beginnings, TNM has been a media platform reporting from, and about, South India, often for an out-of-country audience. It has also emerged as a strong feminist voice in Indian media, setting the standards for sensitive and on-the-ground coverage of issues related to children and women.
Turning readers into subscribers
Through support from the Google News Initiative, we at TNM have been able to identify a new, sustainable revenue stream that supplements our existing advertising revenue model. Analyzing data around user behavior helped us realize that our ardent readers were ready to pay us to support our journalism, so we decided to launch a membership program, which quickly gained members – around 50% of our members came on board within the first five months. After that, our numbers have been slowly but steadily increasing. It’s been about a year and a half since we launched the project, and we’ve hit 3,000 subscribers.
Building a platform for subscribers
During the GNI project, we were able to identify what we wanted our membership program to look like. The main components we built were the membership offerings and pricing, the legal and financial infrastructure, the technical infrastructure, and the organizational capability.
There were surprises and challenges along the way: we had to adjust membership offerings based on early learnings, and processing payments was something we had to spend some time thinking about. We also wanted to make sure that the membership experience was worthwhile. Thanks to the collective wisdom of both our reader community and GNI, we were able to improve and adjust to create the best product possible.
Poised for growth
When we shift to a model where our audience is paying for our journalism, the focus automatically shifts to more community-driven, in-depth journalism that serves the public good. And this also aligns with our mission at TNM. When members of the public pay directly for independent journalism, it strengthens our ability to remain independent.
This launch taught us two really important things. One, we’re on the right track! Even though we had to make several pivots, we’re well-poised to grow the membership program, not just with the Indian diaspora, but with resident Indians as well. Two, we want to keep offering our readers other ways to support our work.
The GNI project put us on the road to a sustainable revenue model that is incredibly different from our traditional advertising-driven model. We’re looking forward to growing this new effort, and seeing how it can benefit our goal to provide our community with independent journalism.