When most entrepreneurs launch a news website, they focus on the hard work, dedication, and technical savvy that’s necessary to get a new project up and running. But what happens next is what really determines whether a news website flourishes or fails.
In order to make money from a news website, publishers need to know all the revenue streams that are out there, and which specific revenue streams are likely to work best for their publications. They should also understand that making money from a news website takes time. Even the founders of Berkeleyside, widely heralded as the gold-standard for local news publishing online, had to wait 18 months after launching to before they could start paying themselves a modest monthly salary.
Local news websites these days make the bulk of their revenue through display advertising, however newer strategies, like sponsorships, subscriptions, memberships, and live events, are all being used to help boost the bottom line.
Here are the first five steps online publishers should take if they want to make money from a news website.
5 steps to make money from a news website
Step 1: Focus on the content
Don’t jump into online advertising too quickly. Independent digital publishers, like Berkeleyside, typically wait at least six months after launch before they begin selling advertising packages to local businesses.
Before approaching any local businesses with advertising opportunities, we recommend digging into the most important aspect of any news website — the content. Work with your editors, reporters, photographers, and other content producers to create an editorial style that’s entirely unique. You may also want to write an editorial mission statement that clarifies the purpose of your publication.
Potential advertisers want to see what type of content their ads will be running alongside, and what sort of message the publication is putting out. With a few months worth of regular posts, your website will be much more attractive to potential advertisers.
Step 2: Approach local advertisers
Which businesses advertise in the daily newspaper or other local news websites in your area? These are the best businesses to start with as you begin exploring outside advertising opportunities and potential sponsorship deals, as these businesses have already demonstrated an affinity for the local press.
Hooking that first advertiser can take time, so don’t get frustrated if businesses say they want to hold off at first. Keep focusing on putting out solid reporting and building a core audience full of loyal (and local) readers, and businesses will eventually be persuaded to advertise.
Step 3: Consider pay-per-click advertising
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can be controversial in the local news industry. PPC advertising is typically run through Google’s AdSense, however a number of other vendors cater to independent local news publishers, as well.
PPC advertising is not a favorite of local news publishers because rates are typically much lower than what publishers could earn by selling to advertisers directly. Most publishers earn between $0.50 to $2 per click. Popular websites with mass appeal can easily bring in thousands of dollars per month through PPC advertising. However, most independent local news websites cater to much smaller audiences. Thus, PPC advertising may not be the right fit for these publishers.
If you are still in the early stages of learning how to make money from a news website, and especially if you are still supplementing your direct sales, then PPC advertising can be a useful tool for filling display advertising slots that would otherwise sit empty.
Step 4: Start selling subscriptions
For all the reasons outlined above, display advertising is not always a great fit for independent news publishers with niche audiences. Rather than earning a few cents per click, publishers who want to make money from a news website will often have better luck focusing on their readership and selling subscriptions to their content.
The longer a publication has been in business, and the more content that publication puts out, the more successful a subscription program is likely to be. However, even younger publishers with a year or less under their belts, can have success with this strategy. (Check out this article on how to design the best subscription sign-up page to convert more readers.)
Step 5: Host live events
Live events are quickly becoming a substantial source of revenue for publishers, which is one of the reasons why we couldn’t leave this step off the list of ways to make money from a news website.
Industry conferences are an excellent source of revenue for niche publishers. Local news websites might consider hosting community forums or meet up events. In addition to selling tickets to attendees, publishers can also sell sponsorship packages to businesses.
Are you having trouble generating revenue from your news website? Get in contact with one of our digital publishing experts for a free video consultation, and we can get started putting together a plan to get you back on track.