This is Verticals, as we presented it to the second round of Google’s DNI.
Our project has not been offered funding from the second round of the Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund, but we are going deeper in it and we are going to realize it anyway. If you are interested in our Verticals project, mail us.
Project title: Verticals
Verticals is a journalistic project dedicated to a variety of mass-niche community of interests. It is realized by expert journalists, well renewed and inserted in each one of their specific sectors. Verticals will be distributed through a pay-for newsletters’ system.
Verticals aims are:
1. Get to strong readers communities unsatisfied with low quality journalism, overwhelmed by information overload and in search of verified, deeply researched and valuable long term long contents.
2. To produce contents with an actual impact on readers.
3. To tighten the relationship between readers and journalists through micropayment.
4. To overtake advertising business models.
5. To build up a union of freelance journalists who can become their own publishers.
6. To make journalism economically sustainable through the direct subscriber’s support.
7. To go beyond the news algorithmic filters.
Verticals will be using:
– High quality journalistic formats of longform, analysis, reportage and investigative reports.
– The communicative strength of a newsletter, which grant direct connection with the readership.
– Micropayment managing easiness.
Project Tags: slow journalism, newsletter, membership
Verticals will be an information platform made by multiple newsletters, each one meant to be thematically vertical. The smallest Verticals unit is a single email, a basic cell of the internet ecosystem, that assures a direct, stable and long term relationship with the public. The email is, in fact, the most used communication instrument in the world, the only one with worldwide and age-wide high utilization rates (transgenerational, as a recent Associated Press Institute report shows), a factor that makes it very trustable.
Verticals takes advantage of mass-public fragmentation in multiple, smaller and more compact niche publics by publishing different vertical newsletters, all tied to the same core. These niches are ideal targets for high quality and high specificity products, all conceived by proven experts in each sector. This structure allows us to diversify our production and to reach smallest parts of different publics which may not be close to each other. The project strength exists in its both singularity and multiplicity. Philosophy and modus operandi are the singularity (slow journalism, honesty and transparency values, product quality and attention to the public). Thematics and mass-niche communities are the multiplicity.
The Verticals project can also be inserted among all other activities provided by our association that are being developed on paper (we’re now working on publishing Delayed Gratification italian version, an english slow journalism quarterly publication) and on web (we already have two online products).
To reinforce our subscribers community we also organize classes, workshops and other kinds of events, as a positive reaction to information overload.
Overproduction, quality decrease and wage lowering are all contributing factors of the journalistic crisis, together with the advertising business model based on clicks and impressions. What the crisis involves it’s not journalism itself, but the relationship between who produces contents, who uses contents and who invests on journalism itself.
For this reason, the goal of our project is to manipulate all three crisis factors and to build a new reality made of new rules and new priorities, in which it would be possible to create a brand new completely independent, high quality journalism.
Verticals wants to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by the digital age and overtake the misunderstanding of quantitative metrics, which are not a real measurement of journalism impact and quality. We will measure the real reader engagement learning from our reader user experience and behaviour. As Tom Rosenstiel (API) suggests, in this way Verticals will really “become a master of, rather a victim of, its data”.
The Verticals project is also completely coherent with the main goal of our association: the mission of spreading among people interest for a slower, more analytic, deeper new way of journalism, the Slow Journalism Peter Laufer theorizes in his Manifesto, Manifesto that, together with professor Laufer, we are going to launch worldwide in an updated version before the end of 2016.
Verticals wants to reach another disruptive innovation point: to pay Verticals’ journalist at least 200 euro per article, meaning pretty 2-4 times the freelance average income per article in Italy, today more or less between 30-50 euros.
Verticals is conceived to be open to new proposal by freelance or independent journalist teams.
What makes your project innovative?: The mainstream information ecosystem is now facing serious struggle, both on the productive point of view, due to being based on an inefficient business model, both on the distribution side. Publishers are going through an economic and identity crisis while the public is largely hit by an uninterrupted information flux that surrounds and drowns it.
Verticals is a project that innovates distribution and production of contents.
On production level, the main innovation would be to build a direct relationship with its readers, something that it’s not filtered by an algorithm of a social network or a search engine. On the distribution level, on the other hand, Verticals exploit the power of digital world to lower distribution costs and construct a work environment based on collaboration and professional networking that only responds to its readers.
To construct Verticals as a newsletters system makes it possible for us to create a direct relationship with readers, who, directly paying our journalists, become the real stakeholders of our work. And this, in 2016, is an actual innovation.
A founding characteristic of Verticals is to be based on Slow Journalism principles, meaning a journalism that takes time to analyse and understand, a sustainable journalism that invest money sending reporters on field to produce truly independent contents exclusively made for the satisfaction of who reads. Our claim is “last to the news, first to the readers”.
In order to enrich and to assure even more Verticals’ sustainability, which core is 100% digital and online, we will also present a real, existing community, built up in time through specific and exclusive events made only for subscribers, set around each one of our vertical newsletters.
All this wants to create and progressively reinforce readers’ community, meaning one of the most central elements of our project together with Quality and Long term content duration. Verticals contents, in fact, are made in order to never risk to be out of date or quickly overtaken by reality. Nowadays, these are what we believe to be founding elements of a new, truly sustainable journalistic project.
Another innovation point, on a business model level, is the construction of a journalistic network where everyone equally works on different newsletters, sharing incomes in a transparent and, most of all, equal way, being able to substantially rise each article earning, to allow the platform to count on italians best professionals. The business model is based on sharing the net income of each newsletter, which keeps the 80% of it to pay contents and authors, while the 20% is Verticals revenue.
The editorial plan of each newsletter is entirely based on slow journalism philosophy. Each newsletter edition – around one or two issue(s) per week, for each one of them – will present an original high quality content and will be supported by a selection of content curation with the best proposal for every single mass-niche community.
The main structure is based on a complex of multiple, specialized singularities, all directed to a variety of compact niche publics. The advantage, economically speaking, is that even a small number of subscribers for each newsletter is enough to obtain the break even and become sustainable. On the editorial level, this kind of structure guarantee an high value-added content production.
Verticals also wants to handle all most innovative distribution instrument to share single contents, facing micropayments. For this reason, single contents will also be sold with an on-demand payment. We will rely on Blendle or similar platforms but also on an e-commerce library that we will develop in the prelaunch phase of the project. We assume that, once stability and sustainability will be reached — we plan to reach it within the first 24-months long phase — the project will be able to offer flat subscriptions, Netflix style, with an all-you-can-read kind of subscription.
Verticals is innovative on the journalistic point and on the business level. For the fact that the ecosystem has transformed an entire generation of journalists in freelance professionals and gave them the illusion of becoming their own entrepreneurs, Verticals is the natural adjustment to this situation.
Verticals propose a new business model but also a new model of collaborative work. It gives freelances the actual opportunity to become their own managers, improving the quality of their own work, working for a specific public and therefore finding in it the economic sustainability needed to make high quality products. Verticals equally distributes incomes among who produces them.
Verticals is an exit strategy from the dysfunctional model of nowadays digital journalism: the real disruptive innovation, today, is to quit the overwhelming news flow, to take time to create high value-added and sustainable journalism.
Verticals is based on three pillars:
1. slow journalism,
2. payed in-depth analysis and reports for mass-niche publics and
3. direct contact with linked communities.
It is also inspired by Fréderic Martel’s philosophy, which invites journalists to put together different kinds of income sources – in coherence with each one’s own mission and project values – to make the work sustainable.
The slow journalism idea at the base of Verticals project – which has its philosophical foundation in Peter Laufer’s book “Slow News – A Manifesto for the Critical News Consumer” – it’s been perfectly declined on paper by Delayed Gratification, the London quarterly directed by Rob Orchard that shouts as its claim «We are the last to break the news».
This is not an affectation but a very precise editorial line, coherent with its product. Its business model is commercial ads free and completely based on subscribers sell and on retail. After five years since it was born, DG is a sustainable journalistic reality, that is growing and expanding itself towards foreign markets. DG’s success shows that it is possible to make a journalistic project sustainable based on a niche group of readers ready to pay for high-quality journalism.
Ben Thompson’s Stratechery is a model of vertical newsletter for a niche public big enough to make the business model sustainable. Ben Thompson is not a journalist, but has a journalistic ethic declaration and an independent analyst approach which we would propose on Verticals. After two years, he reached 4000 subscribers all over the world, who deposit 10$ a month or 100$ a year. Ben Thompson’s approach perfectly represents what we mean by talking about thematic informative product with a high added value.
Wolf is a B2B prototype newsletter, started by Slow News together with Datamediahub (putting together Slow News’ journalistic competence with Datamediahub staff’s digital marketing knowledge). It is directed to journalists, communicators, press offices and social managers and it offers solutions to communication professionals. Building it up, we learnt how to reach an interested public, using all marketing possible incentives. We also learnt how to manage the community, how to slowly let the number of subscribers grow.
Wolf, in 5 months, has reached 160 subscribers who deposit 10 euros every month or 100 euros every year. Wolf also has sold three corporate subscriptions.
Other professional newsletter (Politico, E&E) are directed to a public with very high purchasing possibilities. It’s a very interesting process made to exploit strongly specialized niches formed by people ready to spend over 10 thousands dollars every year for one subscription. Differently from the Politico or the E&E project, Verticals model is directed to a public that is highly interested in the thematic we debate, but doesn’t have the aim to make excessively expensive products. It wants to give punctual, clear, deep and exclusive contents also to who might not have possibilities for an extreme purchase.
About live events there are many examples, but we think it might worth talking about our personal case history, since we’re already working on it. We are specializing ourselves in the formation of journalists and communicators. We do it through institutions that work with journalistic formation together with the ODG (Ordine dei Giornalisti). We organize, in collaboration with different realities, events and workshops in which we talk about that we are developing. In October, for example, one of Slow News co-fundator will hold a workshop entitled “To live of newsletters” at the Ferrara Internazionale festival.
Since we have been studying these products and their history for the past 12 months, our goal now is to condense into our projects all components and solutions that match the best with the product we are going to develop.
Budget Overall: 260690 euro
Budget Personnel: 18864 euro
Budget Editorial: 138336 euro
Budget Engineering: 62880 euro
Budget Equipment: 5240 euro
Budget Software: 2620 euro
Budget Assets Other: 1310 euro
Budget Marketing: 31440 euro
Verticals will not use advertising, neither public subsides or any sponsorship. The core of the project is the readership, with which is decisive, for the success of the project, to tie a strong, transparent and trust-based relationship with content producers. This relationship would be prolonged and reinforced by live events, workshops and other initiatives. For this, to evaluate the success rate of the project we will first of all analyze reading, commenting, sharing and participating rates of the readers.
The metrics we will use are:
– Number of subscribers (for example: the break even point of each newsletter is fixed on 500 subscribers at 5€ a month)
– Subscribers turnover (rate between subscription and unsubscription that have to be positive)
– Active participation in forums and other pools activity related to the newsletters
– Social analytics
– Active participation in live events and exclusive workshops
– Average subscription duration
– Newsletters’ open rates
– Click through rate on secondary links (it will show how deep the reader activity is)
Another interesting rate to evaluate the successfulness of the project will be the number of brand new proposals for other newsletters to launch. This metrics let us to understand the real impact of Verticals on journalism world of work.
These are the monetisation factors we count about:
1. Direct Subscriptions
2. Crowdfunding Subscriptions (in each newsletters’ launch phase)
3. Single content sales
5. Exclusive live events
6. Professional consultations
7. Flat subscriptions (After 24 months since launch)
8. Further publications (E-books, E-guides, On-demand reports and other editorial products conceived both for the subscribers, and for occasional readers).
9. Brand franchising
Verticals business model grows on the thought that, what it’s needed to find an economic sustainability for a journalistic project, is not one, unique solution: there are many. It’s the variable solutions economy, an economy particularly made for crisis periods, because it reinforce itself by diversifying income sources.
Each vertical newsletter model aims to its sustainability mainly thank to subscribers. The cost of each subscription will roughly be around 5-10 euros for an offer made by maximum 8-10 contents each month which will be exclusive for the subscribers and written by proven high skilled journalists. The advantage of starting a platform made by multiple vertical newsletter is the relatively low subscribers critical mass needed to reach the break even, more or less 2000 on all newsletters.
Few contents, but exclusive and highly accurate. Contents for a community made of exigent readers, written by very competent, well paid and motivated journalists. And there’s more. The partial solutions economy also suggests to back up main income with other ways of producing incomes, that can also overtake the model thank to the chance of start other “franchising” kind vertical products.
Verticals model works if it’s able to grow communities and if it’s able to give them the kind of contents they need. But a community doesn’t only exist online. And a digital product it’s not suppose to not have any extra-web manifestations. It is exactly this need of building a united community and, together with this, to grow incomes, that we have the intention of making our subscribers community exist in real world while organizing exclusive meetings, workshops, masterclasses, and anything that can keep a group together while opening to new subscribers.
An Italian quote says that you don’t throw anything that comes from a pig away. This is why Verticals doesn’t limit itself by only giving its direct subscribers contents through a newsletter. Since it doesn’t want to be a walled garden, Verticals will take advantage of both single contents sell on platforms like Blendle (that we are currently testing on Wolf contents) and also on ebook publication, reportages and special contents that are suppose to be decided together with our public, and on which all the Verticals team will work.
The plan developed for founds production of the whole platform management is completed by the insertion of a consultation, that professionals who work with Slow News can offer to different institutions and companies. Incomes coming from this kind of activity will be divided in between each single association partner and Slow News, according to a model we’ll be applying also on each newsletter and that guarantees distribution and maximization of each association partner earning.
Verticals goal is to develop and grow as an independent editorial reality in about 12 months and to stabilize itself in the following 12 months, getting this way to a total sustainability, guaranteed by its stable readers community, in about 24 months.
This are the steps we pointed as the ones we would like to reach during the two years after getting founds.
First 12 months
– Market survey (to complete already reached experiences) and plan: 4 weeks
– Selecting technical and editorial staff: 3 months
– Design development, automation and disposal of bureaucratic procedures: 2 weeks (to complete already reached experiences)
– Pre-subscription campaign, through crowdfunding platform and different social network promotion channels, launch campaigns and events: 2 months
– Setting of a calendar of live events (classes, workshops, meetings and launch events): 1 month
– Newsletters launch
– Management and care of different communities
Second 12 months
– English version launch planning (not for every newsletters, just for the international ones)
– Management and care of different communities
– Subscriptions campaigns aimed to reinforce and let subscribers grow
– Evaluation of new vertical newsletters made by other journalistic realities (freelance as well as teams)
– Research of new kinds of niche publics that can potentially be interested in the Verticals’ contents and distributive model