Collaborative Revenue for Exiled Media

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One area which has much potential for wider impact in the digital economy is the as-yet underresearched field of collaborative revenue capture in journalism. This term is proposed to describe methods to capture revenues on behalf of multiple stakeholders (potentially in competition with one another), and divide profits between them. There is evidence of this as an emerging revenue platform in media: Piano Media, a cross-publication model,where pooled premium content from different media outlets is set behind a paywall, initially launched in Slovenia and Slovakia. Or Blendle offering newspapers and magazines in the Netherlands on one website, reconfiguring a revenue model for journalism by making it incredibly easy to pay for separate articles. Another is Diversity, an online advertising network that pools many media sites together into one global advertising network of standard advertising formats and sizes, thus creating a potential global audience reach for advertisers. See for example Contributoria, a member-supported, crowdfunding, collaborative writing platform or the Banyan Project, a news cooperative owned by the community it covers for emerging examples of collaboration around revenues.

By way of a test case study, this workshop explored the extent to which collaborative revenue capture can help to achieve a meaningful level of financial independence for media under threat. The long-term success of independent media in exile or restrictive environments, where the free flow of information is restricted and information producers are at risk, depends on financial sustainability, yet there is little scholarly research around revenue model development. These media function, for the most part, by grants from donor organisations which now run into millions of pounds justified by the fact that access to the diverse and credible journalism in countries such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Syria and Sri Lanka offers the opportunity to deliver much greater social and economic cohesion and political transparency.

For media seeking to support the free flow of information in fragile environments, the issue of financial sustainability is complex. Both media in exile (out-of-country news outlets feeding independent information back in) and news outlets in restrictive news environments (in country providing counter information) exist in flawed market situations and often rely on grant funding. Researchers have stopped short of exploring the revenue streams of these media. Empirical data is scarce and a corresponding understanding of the funding structure of these media is lacking.  One study of relevance – and from which this workshop draws its roots – fills that gap by mapping three main revenue categories of media in exile or in restrictive news environments: grant funding, earned income and donations. The major factors influencing revenue streams compared to online media startups in open markets are discussed. The author finds there is no one-size-fits-all solution and identifies the need for collaborative approaches to promote economic resilience for media under threat (Cook 2015).

As such, exiled media as a vehicle for studying the potential for collaborative revenue capture could be an important indicator to the broader digital industries, which are also grappling with the possibilities for collaborative approaches. This represents an entirely new academic field approach.

While the set of circumstances exiled media present are relatively unique, the approach to circumvent them – afforded by digital technologies – is highly transferable. The potential to place a stake in the greater understanding of such collaborative revenue methods showcases the UK as a leader in revenue model experimentation, an area watched with much interest globally.

It was an honour to bring together media, stakeholders, Open Society Foundations, Rory Peck Trust, Wan-Ifra, Internews and many more organisations to discuss these pivotal issues.

The event was held at the Media Innovation Studio and used our cutting edge Remerge technology for facilitation and data capture. The two day event explored new ways for revenue to be generated and harnessed.

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