Success of The Ken’s subscription-only revenue model

WAN-IFRA Digital Media India 2019

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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.

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