Shrinking advertising revenues – under pressure from platform companies like Google and Facebook – have made the old ad-supported business model obsolete for all but the biggest players. In many countries, state actors also interfere in the advertising market, weaponizing spending and starving independent media to favour those willing to toe the government line. Grants can also be subject to restrictive regulation by governments that do not want to see independent media funded. This leaves audience revenue as the best bet for many independent outlets: subscriptions, memberships, crowdfunding drives, and micro-donations to cover the production costs of quality journalism.
But it’s easier said than done outside of the developed world, where affluent audiences are relatively small and not necessarily used to or willing to pay for digital media. It makes newsrooms in challenging environments reluctant to lock their public service journalism behind a paywall, despite how difficult it is to keep audiences paying without offering some exclusivity.
Considering the aforementioned challenges, this paper aims to analyze audience revenue programmes of digital media outlets outside North America and Western Europe to see what works. It examines environments that are often low-choice and repressive, and tries to map out the common challenges and identify practical, adaptable solutions.