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Readers are only getting started

“To really be a reader-driven organization, every journalist that works there should be open to the knowledge, ideas, and concerns of their readers. You can’t outsource that interaction to an engagement editor.”

Now that we are all getting used to asking readers to pay for our journalism, we will bring this new business model to the next level in 2019.

The first thing we need to do? Realizing it’s not just a business model.

It’s more than “passive consumers pay us for information.” It’s not the Bloomberg Terminal. Your readers are paying you because they value your mission and they want to be part of it.

That’s why The Guardian managed to get 1 million paying readers over the last three years. It couldn’t be for just the information itself, because the site’s articles are open to everyone. The Guardian’s readers are paying because they think The Guardian’s journalism matters — they pay because they think it’s a public good that needs to be available to other citizens too.

The implication of this? Reader revenue can’t be something that only the business division works on. Because if readers deem the mission important, they also want to help you with other means than just a financial contribution. They want you to be able to do your journalism to the best of your abilities.

  • If they know something about the topic you’re covering, they want to share that knowledge with you.
  • If they are concerned about a trend they see in their industry, field of study or community, they want to be able to share their concern with you.
  • If you are making important business or editorial decisions, they want to hear about them and understand them. And help you make better ones too.

So to really be a reader-driven organization, every journalist that works there should be open to the knowledge, ideas, and concerns of their readers. You can’t outsource that interaction to an engagement editor.

And the board of a publication should inform its subscribers or members about the business’ direction. For example, with an annual financial report for readers.

In 2019, we will realize that readers want to offer us more than just their money, and they also expect more than just information in return. This is a good thing. Because journalism exists to keep citizens informed. Its revenue model finally becomes more civic-oriented. In 2019, we can take the next step and start offering our readers more ways to help with our important mission.

I, for one, can’t wait!

Ernst Pfauth is cofounder and CEO of The Correspondent.

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