As print media continues to see declining revenue from advertising and online news outlets can’t seem to find a model that works without aggravating their readers to no end, some local papers have opted for an interesting business model transition. They’re going nonprofit …
One of the latest to try this model is the Tulsa Frontier, an investigative news website based on Oklahoma. Launched a year ago with a vision to take a new approach to local news, the site operated behind a paywall, asking $30 a month from users who wanted to see … whatever was behind the paywall.
And that’s the big problem with newspaper paywalls. If people don’t care enough to find you in the first place, they’re not going to pay for something, especially when they don’t know what they’re getting. Currently, the most profitable business model for online news publication is a mix of traditional SEO, market research, and clickbait headlines. Getting “eyes on” is the name of the game … whether people actually read the articles or not is secondary.
But the Tulsa Frontier wants people to read. They want people to care about the content, not just the emotional reaction they get from the lead paragraph. They set a goal of about 1,000 subscribers in their first year but fell a couple hundred short of that goal. That’s a fair success rate in the world of online media, but not enough for the site to grow.
So, site bosses decided to go the nonprofit route, finding money from foundations to keep the doors open, hire more reporters, and keep the news coming. It’s an interesting business model that might prove to be a solid marketing model for the hyperlocal news movement, which has struggled to find a consistent profit platform in recent years.
Nonprofit news is nothing new, of course. Public Broadcasting and NPR have been doing it well for decades. But, while most medium and large markets have a solid local TV and radio presence, they don’t have much in the way of local news that’s not feature-based.
There’s a market for local news, but people accustomed to paying very little for a print paper every day and nothing for news online, are generally averse to coughing up cash for a monthly subscription.
But many local charity groups and foundations are open to supporting a publication that offers an important service in the community, as truly local news does. This model still allows businesses to advertise and sponsor pages or articles, but also allows people and groups to make tax-deductible donations, a much more attractive “sell” than asking money for something that people are used to getting for free.