Success of The Ken’s subscription-only revenue model

WAN-IFRA Digital Media India 2019

Rohin Dharmakumar, co-founder and chief executive officer of The Ken at WAN-IFRA Digital Media India 2019.

Bengaluru-based subscription-based business news start-up, The Ken, has seen significant growth since its founding in October 2016. The web portal vertically segments the audience and presents content that appeals to the segment of readers who pay for it. It has made a mark by publishing one exclusive business story every weekday. The Ken’s subscription model has two parts: high-quality journalism in the form of original and deeply reported analytical stories and premium pricing. The portal charges Rs 2750/$108 for a one-year subscription.

Rohin Dharmakumar, co-founder and chief executive officer of The Ken told the WAN-IFRA Digital Media India 2019, which was held in Mumbai on 19-20 February, that the portal is now among the largest subscription-only digital platform in India with more than 10,000 active subscribers. It is growing at the rate of 100% every year for the last two years, he said.

So, what are the reasons for the success of The Ken’s subscription model? According to Dharmakumar, the management was clear about the strategy from the first day. The website never went for trial offers, made sure there were no leaky paywalls, refrained from publishing advertisements on the web pages, there was no syndication and there were no discounts.

Journalism as a product

Dharmakumar believes that journalism has always been a product and should be sold as one. However, the traditional journalism construct has been marred by ignorance, mistrust and antipathy between editorial and business sides. There have been strict ‘Chinese walls’ between functions, with no common ground on what the product is. Is it the journalism? Or is it the readers?

Dharmakumar said that product, engineering and marketing are distinct but connected and all share a common objective with editorial – to win and retain subscribers. He advised that the ‘Chinese walls’ need to be broken, but ethically.

A news providing company should be managed and run as a SaaS company, he said. A SaaS company is one that hosts an application and makes it available to customers over the internet. SaaS stands for Software as a Service.

Sustainable revenue model = best guarantor of independent journalism

With the rise of the menace of fake and manipulated news on social media platforms, the importance of creditable news source is now being felt by a large section of news consuming public. However, quality and authentic journalism costs money. Dharmakumar believes that independent and quality journalism can be done only if a news provider has a sustainable revenue model.

Citing the example of The Ken’s subscriber base, he said that the website relies on multiple revenue sources. In addition to retail subscribers, there are corporate subscribers, campus and patron subscriptions. All these subscribers have been acquired organically through channels such as eMails, direct visits and search.

We are not dependent on platform gatekeepers and in control of our growth channels, Dharmakumar said.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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