Publishing News: Crowdfunding, the new way to raise money for news

Crowdfunding the news, advice for publishers on surviving the digital frontier, and innovation in library e-lending.

Fundraising for news


GuardianWitness App

Mathew Ingram reports this week on one entrepreneurial blogger and journalist who, finding local news coverage of his home town lacking, crowdfunded his own hyper-local news blog. Ingram notes that Joey Coleman does not have a journalism background, but after he started a blog reporting local news in his home town of Hamilton, Canada, readers started offering to pay for his reporting. Since then, Ingram reports, Coleman has completed two successful Indiegogo campaigns to fund his work.

In a podcast interview with Ingram, Coleman described his journey into journalism, which started in 2004 with a domain name and a blog that, once he started writing about university news and politics, became one of the most-read outlets for university news and ended up landing him a job with Maclean’s magazine. He eventually returned to his home town to spend a summer working at the local newspaper, which didn’t do much on the web, opening up possibilities for Coleman. “My goal is to build a local news service, where the business model is sustainable for hiring a number of staff … to build a business model around journalism and then expand when I have a base that’s sustainable,” he told Ingram. You can read more about Coleman’s work in Ingram’s report and you can listen to Coleman’s interview in the podcast.

Interestingly, notorious hacktivist group Anonymous has done a very similar thing. This week, the group raised $54,668 in an Indiegogo campaign to establish a news reporting website — the campaign’s original goal was $2,000. “Those of us contributing to [Your Anon News] YAN have always desired to expand our capabilities and to report, not just aggregate, the news,” the group wrote in its campaign description. Megan Geuss reports at ArsTechnica that the “aim is to move some content away from Twitter and Tumblr, where Anonymous has traditionally made announcements and linked to articles. But YAN’s mission is also to become more integrated with the news cycle.” Geuss says it’s unclear whether the site will ultimately pay reporters or depend upon volunteer reporting, noting that “Anonymous itself falls somewhere between ‘decentralized network’ and ‘anarchic identity,’ so exactly who is behind the site could remain as nebulous as it is at the YourAnonNews Twitter feed.”

In related news, the Guardian launched an app this week that aims to crowdsource not the funding but the news itself. Paul Sawers reports at The Next Web that the GuardianWitness app was launched in partnership with UK mobile operator EE and will allow readers to contribute videos, pictures and text to the Guardian’s editorial staff.

The app is available on the web as well as via native apps on Android and iOS. “The Guardian actually posts ‘assignments’, inviting users to post content based on themes,” Sawers writes. “Editors set a range of assignments each week, covering news, sport, culture and life and style.” Sawers also notes that in addition to getting local flavor coverage, the app will be particularly useful for breaking news when the newspaper’s journalists are unable to “cover the sheer scale of it.”

Publishers need to pony up and be willing to fail to survive in the digital frontier

In a post on Medium this week, Aaron Steven Miller had some thoughts on how we can save publishing. He says industry insiders need to wake up to Amazon’s strategy and strike back with more effective counter-moves. He writes:

“We must continue developing alternatives, and some of us who do must hold out when Amazon comes knocking. For that to happen, publishers need to back some of these alternatives. They need to:

  1. care about community
  2. care about what happens to a book after it’s sold
  3. understand that the context of content and authors is as important as they are
  4. understand that a seven figure advance for BJ Novak’s book might be a good idea, but so might a $2M investment in a tech startup that helps them with #1, #2, and #3 above.”

Miller says its time for people who care about books, reading and the future of literature need to “pony up and put cash into the future of book.” You can read Miller’s complete piece, along with several thoughtful comments from industry insiders, on Medium.

Author Neil Gaiman had some advice for publishers this week as well: they need to embrace their inner dandelion. Gaiman explained in an interview with Alison Flood at the Guardian that dandelions drop thousands of seeds and let them fly anywhere, and maybe only 100 will sprout. “And I was really using that analogy for today, saying the whole point of a digital frontier right now is that it’s a frontier, all the old rules are falling apart,” he told her.

“When the rules are gone you can make up your own rules,” Gaiman said. “You can fail, you can fail more interestingly, you can try things, and you can succeed in ways nobody would have thought of … You can do all of that stuff but you just have to become a dandelion, be willing for things to fail, throw things out there, try things, and see what sticks.”

Simon & Schuster shows spark of innovation in library e-lending pilot

Simon & Schuster announced this week that it not only would finally test the ebook library lending waters (it was one of the last of the Big Six holdouts), but it also would experiment with a library direct sales portal.

A report at Publishers Weekly states that the publisher will launch a one-year pilot program with the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Library, in which it will provide its complete catalogue to the libraries. Each ebook can be checked out by one patron at a time for an unlimited number of times for one year, and the entire catalogue will also be available for purchase through each library’s website, with the libraries receiving a share of the proceeds from each sale.

There also was a notable absence of OverDrive participation. The PW report states that 3M will support digital distribution for the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Library, and BiblioCommons will handle their ecommerce; at the Queens Public Library, Baker & Taylor will handle digital distribution as well as provide ecommerce support.

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