For the latest in our Digital Independence series, where we feature small-to-medium sized online publishing startups, we talk to Exaro News, an investigative news site hoping to establish a commercial model for exclusive investigative journalism. We talk to editor-in-chief Mark Watts.
TheMediaBriefing: How would you describe Exaro?
Watts: It is an investigative website. It’s an outlet that publishes the results of investigations covering a wide range of subjects. It is divided into three channels: international, UK and business. It is very much about breaking stories. It doesn’t reproduce and it doesn’t just do diary stories.
When did the business launch and what are your aims?
We launched a very preliminary version in October last year. A guy called Jerome Booth, one of the co-founders of (investment fund manager) Ashmore basically invested to get it off the ground.
It was a phased launch, initially getting the site up and running with a small amount of initial content. We’ve then developed the design of the site and added more content.
The overall aim is to produce a site based on investigative journalism at a time when investigative journalism is under an awful lot of pressure in the marketplace. We aim to create a subscription based website that will pay for itself rather than being philanthropically based, as are most of the investigative journalism projects that have started recently.
How many staff?
We have a team of around 35 journalists working for us, a mix of staff and freelancers. Core staff is just half a dozen.
How much traffic does the site get?
At this moment we are not getting into what the figures are. We are at the stage where we are raising the profile and letting the world know we are here, lot of the stories we have produced have been covered with credit by other publications. We still feel we are at a very early stage.
How do you intend to generate revenue?
By subscriptions and it is likely there will be variable price for different levels of access, though we haven’t decided on pricing yet.
Exaro is primarily aimed at business professionals, people in the City, professionals and bankers etc.
It is also a more general pitch to the upmarket readers of established national papers, but we see our primary audience as business professionals.
That is because the key is going to be getting City based corporate accounts, which will get quite a sharp discount on per user.
We aim to be producing investigations that are of particular interest to the business community, Businesses are more used to subscribing to a wide range of information, and it is an audience that is used to paying for information, whether it is trade press or newswires, in a way the general consumer is not and it is going to be quite hard to change that.
For example, the story we are best known for now is the story about how senior civil servants were avoiding tax by being self-employed as a company.
That is of interest to accountants and tax professionals and human resources in businesses more generally. And we have seen that interest.
Are you profitable?
We are working on the basis of it taking about three years to get to subscription level to break even.
Do you have any competition?
Exaro is unique, there is no dedicated investigative outlet based on a commercial model. To some extent we compete with existing national publications, but there really isn’t anything quite like it.
It is an example of the new media enterprises that are springing up and will eventually replace old media.
Is social media important to the business?
Social media is important as part of raising our profile.
But we actually work quite a lot in partnership with existing media outlets, be it the BBC or national newspapers on specific stories, and the reason we do that is to raise our profile.
Up until now we haven’t charged when working on stories with other news outlets, but in the long run it is envisaged we would be doing that on a commercial basis.
Where will your growth come from in the long term?
In the long run, we do see it possible scaling up internationally, to replicate it in other key centres around the world. We can imagine setting up a similar organisation in the US.
If we hit our break even target within three years, we will then start looking at reproducing the model in other markets.