Updated May 19, 10:30 am EDT
News site eldiario.es, a media startup that became successful in less than two years, didn’t get that way by mistake.
Founded in September 2012, eldiario.es is already among the 10 most-read news sites in Spain with 250,000 to 350,000 visits per day and 3,500,000 monthly unique users. It more than doubled its staff from 12 to 25, while also managing to turn a profit, thanks to a business model based on advertising and subscriptions.
While legacy media outlets like El País say they could become online-only in the future, eldiario.es was thought out from the start as a digital-only site covering politics and economics. This allowed it to experiment on the web quickly and makes it an ideal site for would-be media entrepreneurs to examine.
Ignacio Escolar, director of eldiario.es, shared the lessons he learned launching the site during a recent web chat hosted by la Fundación Gabriel García Márquez para el Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (FNPI) and the Red Periodismo de Hoy.
The chat, "10 things you should know before launching a media startup," drew heavily from his experience as an entrepreneur. "These are things that I wish someone would have told me before I launched my site," he said.
Here’s a summary of some of the most important points from his presentation.
-Find a niche.
The first question that entrepreneurs should ask themselves about their site is “what is it for”? What type of news outlet do you want to build, and what’s its purpose?
One factor that may determine the success of a new project is the size. "The Internet is endless, but your startup can’t cover it all," he said.
Escolar said print media’s way of covering a broad range of topics is useless to a website. The reason that print newspapers have sections – international news, politics, sports, business, etc.— is because of physical constraints and how newspapers are distributed.
The Internet makes local distribution monopolies obsolete, so it doesn’t make sense for news outlets on the web to cover a number of different topics as general news outlets do, he said. That's why organizations that focus on a niche have more chances to be successful, and that was the strategy eldiario.es followed by focusing on politics and economics. "We wanted to create a site that didn’t cover it all, but what it did cover it did it well," he said.
-Money, money, money.
The business model is the most important thing a news entrepreneur has to consider, said Escolar, who drafted eight versions of a business plan before launch. The site managed to reach 3,500,000 unique users per month and to become profitable by using a mixed model of advertising and subscriptions.
While many news organizations across the world are setting up paywalls, the subscription model of eldiario.es doesn’t involve one. While the site is fully open, and the information easily accessible, subscribers pay 5 euros per month (US$6.85) to enjoy a number of perks. They can navigate the site without seeing ads, and every night they get a newsletter with the news that’ll be published the following day. "They have the exclusive for a few hours," he said. The comments of subscribers are also displayed more prominently on the site as a way to acknowledge their contribution to keeping the site running.
The site also mails subscribers a quarterly print magazine, which reads more like a compilation of essays than a news magazine and has a longer shelf life, he said.
Over 7,200 readers are subscribed to eldiario.es and the site projected to reach 10,000 next year. While advertising is the main source of revenue, 30 percent of revenue comes from subscribers, which allows the site to have greater independence, he said.
Escolar also said the site is looking to venture into consulting services and organizing offline events. "A news website is like a technology lab," he said, adding that the team's experience working on the web with eldiario.es can be valuable to others.
-The design should have a balance between beauty and functionality.
Taking a cue from other web pioneers, like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post, Escolar decided that the social media buttons of eldiario.es had to be on the very top of the site. "If it was up to my designer, we would have them somewhere on the right column, a bit lost. The fact that they are in the header helped us build a community," he said. The site has 216,000 Twitter followers and 190,000 Facebook fans.
He also recommended working with a heat map, such as Crazyegg.com, which shows you how your design is working for and being used by site visitors.
"The homepage is dying. There is a growing audience that finds you through social media and never goes to your homepage," he said. This puts more weight on the interior pages, whose design should function as a homepage and sell other content to your users as they pass through.
For the same reason, the information on eldiario.es is published last on the homepage. When a journalist has a new story to push out, it first goes on the website on an internal page, then it gets promoted on Twitter, Facebook, and lastly on the homepage.
Most of eldiario.es’ audience comes from mobile rather than desktop. However, when journalists think about how to present news, they think based on their own experience from a desktop computer.
When thinking about the mobile strategy, Escolar prefers mobile versions of websites instead of native mobile applications for iOS and Android. "Unless you have very specific mobile content there’s no need for a native application. It looks good but people don’t use it,” he said.
It’s much more useful to think of a version of your site adapted for mobile, either a mobile version or using a responsive design, and to combine it with an advertising strategy that is specifically designed for mobile.
It’s also important to remember where the audience will come from. For eldiario.es, nearly 50 percent of their audience comes to the site from social networks, while 30 percent comes from direct traffic and 15 percent comes from search engines. This last figure is so low because the site is so new, and since the longer a site is up, the more content it’s generating, the bigger the archive, and the more traffic it will get from search engines.
This also affects the writing style. Not so long ago, writing SEO friendly headlines was all the rage. Escolar thinks this strategy is wrong. "It's always more profitable to think of humans rather than robots," he said, adding that Google is changing its algorithm to think more about how humans will search for information.
"We have to do video," Escolar said. Besides having a lot of potential on the web, another reason to experiment with this form of storytelling is that video advertising is more expensive than regular web advertising, and in places like Spain there is more demand than supply.
"But you have to keep in mind that you're not a TV station," he said. "Don’t obsess about making a television product." The site is redefining its video strategy, drawing inspiration from Vox.com and “what young people are doing on YouTube,” he said.
Image: Ignacio Escolar, CC-Licensed thanks to Julio Albarrán on Flickr.
Escolar’s quotes were originally in Spanish and were translated by the writer.
Maite Fernández is IJNet’s managing editor. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and has an M.J. in multimedia journalism from the University of Maryland.