The next big thing in online content. That’s the goal of a nifty new experiment launched this week by Newsana, one of our favourite online content sites, and we’re excited to be a part of it.
On May 8 at 4PM Eastern, Newsana published the first edition of The Energy Mix, a twice-weekly “newsmag” that carries the latest curated content on climate change and low-carbon energy. For the time it takes me to sift the best material from the climate and energy news that I monitor every day, we’re betting that up to 2,000 subscribers will come up with $5.75 per month to save some time on their own content search.
If they do, we’ll learn some important lessons about monetized content, build an online community of interest around climate and energy policy, and figure out the strengths and limitations of a platform that could generate profile and cash flow for some of our clients.
If the experiment fails, we’ll still be closer to understanding what it takes to generate sustainable online cash flow for thoughtful content. Even if we end up crossing one more promising possibility off the list, we’ll still be closer to understanding something important about online social networks: How do you attract and retain a committed audience when your product is an idea, a policy, or a community solution, not a pop star or a commercial brand?
Beyond ‘Justin Bieber Moments’
The Energy Mix is one of a series of subscription-based news magazines that launched May 6 under the Newsana+ banner. In a blog post that day, CEO Ben Peterson traced his path to a publishing model that he hopes will be “the next big thing in news.”
When the original Newsana hit the virtual stands just over a year ago, the plan was to create an online community that could deliver high-quality content and continually expand its reach and scale. The site first showed up on our radar late last year, when Newsana hosted a thoughtful and very timely forum on the role of traditional media in uncovering the Rob Ford scandal in Toronto.
“We wanted to gather a big group of subject-specific experts who would collectively find the most important news stories of the day,” Peterson wrote. But there were a few bugs in the system. When Newsana opened up its application process to draw a bigger pool of community news aggregators, the quality of content began to drop. More ominously, it became ever more clear that digital advertising would be a poor revenue source for a site that wanted to purvey smart, thoughtful content.
“You can still create a viable business around online ads, but you have to be producing the type of content that drives massive traffic,” Peterson wrote. “Top ten Justin Bieber moments work, higher quality analysis doesn’t, nor will it ever again.”
Revenge of the Wonks
The guiding assumption behind Newsana+ is that subject specialists will take the time each week to aggregate the best content in their fields, then attract a large enough community of subscribers to bring them a reasonable fee for their effort. By taking a percentage of the proceeds, Newsana puts a solid, sustainable revenue base behind a news platform that benefits us all.
With an initial ceiling of 2,000 subscribers, The Energy Mix won’t produce millions of weekly hits, or millions of dollars—but that’s not the point. If we can gain experience with a smart approach to narrowcasting essential content, we’ll be better able to help our clients reach out to their own target audiences. And if The Energy Mix becomes an online gathering place for people who are serious about deep carbon reductions by mid-century, everyone will gain.
The most pleasant surprise so far? Until Newsana+ launched, I had no idea Peterson had this mantra in mind for the whole venture:
We are the wonks. We are the people that care. Some say we are nerds, outsiders. Let them say whatever they want. We are proud. Proud to have a higher calling. We study, we think, we plan. Ultimately, we know. We know, deep inside, every detail. We shape the future. And now we have a home. #WeTheWonks.
If I thought the Newsana+ exercise was really half that self-important, I’d be worried. But for sheer, shameless snark, I love it. Check it out! I hope you’ll love it, too.