Digital native companies with dedicated sales teams and solid gender diversity are more successful than those that do not, according to findings from a year-long multi-national research initiative by Project Oasis.
Project Oasis was launched in April 2023, based on research conducted in 2022. The project chronicles sustainability, innovation, and the impact of independent digital native media across 44 countries in Europe.
More than 60 researchers, managers, data analysts, and programmers worked on this project.
In 2024, the Project will bring together its European research together with the existing work in Latin America, USA and Canada. “So, We’ll have a global directory because we also plan to include media from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East,” said Elena Ledda, Regional Research Manager for Southern Europe.
Ledda joined WAN-IFRA’s recent Newsroom Summit to highlight Project Oasis’ main findings and showcase case studies on digital revenue strategies, audience engagement and collaboration from the media they mapped.
The companies that make up Project Oasis are all digital natives – ones that were born online and publish exclusively or primarily for the internet. These organisations are also financially and editorially independent.
“We excluded media belonging to the government, church, big corporations or whose revenue came from those sources,” said Ledda, adding, “Transparency was also important, so we could know who their owners and/or funders were. They had to be publishing for at least six months – irrespective of the format like newsletters or blogs.”
The Project Oasis team mapped 557 media companies in Europe.
“We chose to work with digital native media because they had more things in common with each other compared to legacy media with a digital vision,” she remarked.
All of the listed companies have summaries of the media landscape in those regions, including press freedom, market structure, funding, and business models.
Direct correlation between gender diversity and revenue
Project Oasis looked at how 100 media companies (of the 317 media outlets that were a part of this study that notably featured 58 percent female-founded media) with the highest annual revenue, distribute their content by looking beyond just the website.
The study found 46 of those outlets use social media platforms as their main distribution channel, 34 use websites, 11 use podcasts, and nine use newsletters.
Ledda highlighted Fayn, a Turkish YouTube channel, which distributes explanatory videos through YouTube and Instagram.
“We expect Instagram to become the primary place for growth,” Şükrü Oktay Kılıç, the co-founder, told Project Oasis in 2022. Cut to 2023, Fayn witnessed a tenfold increase in its Instagram followers.
The team also noted a direct correlation between gender and revenue. Media companies with at least one female and one male founder had the highest annual gross revenue of €509,740. Companies with only male founders stood at €497,719 and those with only female founders recorded the lowest revenue at €101,135.
“We also noticed that the companies that invest in dedicated sales and business development staff tend to have 6x more revenue,” she said.
‘Two to six revenue sources must for sustainability’
Project Oasis has mapped media ranging from small startups run by volunteers to multi-platform publications that earn more than €10 million a year. The majority of them have between 10 and 19 full-time employees, and only a small percentage have more than 100 employees.
Furthermore, the majority of these media are non-profit with grants, individual donations and memberships as main revenue sources.
As for the mapped for-profit media, the primary revenue sources are advertising, digital subscriptions, and grants.
“We confirm that revenue diversity is key, but we also saw that (having) too many revenue sources does not correspond to greater success,” Ledda said.
“We find that to attain sustainability and independence, ideally, companies choose between two and six different revenue sources; so, not less, not more,” she added.
Innovation to boost revenue, build community
Only about 30 percent of the mapped media relies on reader revenue. Some of these organisations have found innovative ways to garner support. Ledda listed a few examples:
Deník Referendum, Czech Republic: Jakub Patočka, the Editor-in-Chief, came up with a peculiar source of income. All the articles produced by the company are free to read, but if a user wants to comment under those articles, they need to pay a fee. “This leads to generating a modest income and cultivating discussions,” noted Ledda.
Zetland, Denmark: In 2019, Zetland launched an ambassador campaign among their members with the aim of growing membership and becoming financially sustainable. With 4,000 members campaigning voluntarily the company reached its goal within a month. (think we wrote about this before, so you could include a link to the previous story. We’ve definitely written about Zetland a few times).
The Bristol Cable, UK: The publisher is financed through contributions from members of the cooperative, who are also democratic shareholders. They participate in the annual meetings and can vote on editorial campaigns.
West Leeds Dispatch, UK: This company serves as a good example of community-driven journalism. The people-powered community newsroom has more than 60 contributors to help engage its audience. “They heavily invest in training their contributors. And although they started as a voluntary operation, after eight years, they’ve reached sustainability through grants, advertising, and individual donations,” she said.
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