During the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement last year, independent news sites popped up like mushrooms in Hong Kong. They grabbed audience from the traditional media and quickly built their own groups of loyal readers.
However, readership in the free-news environment nowadays doesn’t necessarily translate to profit. Most of these new independent media are finding that making ends meet is not easy.
Post 852, a news website founded by Yau Ching-yuen, a former deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal, is one such entity.
Yau revealed the click rate on his website doubled every month since the Occupy movement took off last October. The total hit rate now reaches 11 million, while the number of visitors has risen 50 percent to 1.6 million, he told Apple Daily.
However, the increase in readership is not enough for supporting the independent media.
“Now the mass public has a different expectation on media. People choose what they want to read. The market is fragmentized, meaning that many different non-mainstream media are replacing the traditional ones,” says Fung Ying-him, professor and director of the School of Journalism & Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“The new media cannot be based on subscription model. But to develop an advertising-based business model, a critical mass of at least half a million readers is needed,” notes Tsui Yuen, Apple Daily’s executive editor.
Coming back to Post 852, the initial capital can only support the website operation for two years. The site has been in operation for more than a year now, and more than half of the money has already been spent.
Though the response to the site has exceeded expectations, “this year will be critical”, Yau said.
The site is now working with Pixels, an advertising solutions firm that helps clients boost ad revenue.
Yau told Apple Daily that advertising revenue will be split between the two parties, with 60 percent going to Post 852 while Pixels will keep the remaining 40 percent.
Currently, sponsorship is one of the main income streams for Post 852. Yau revealed that the amount once reached HK$300,000 a month during the Umbrella Movement, covering half of the expenses.
Yau has also thought of other ways to pump up revenue. Teaching classes on politics and launching an online auction platform are some of his ideas.
“I believe we could break even by the end of this year,” Yau said.
Now, what about Stand News, the successor to House News?
Before the Umbrella Movement, House News had established a unique status among the independent media. It was once the leader in the industry. However, the sudden closure of the site left its readers perplexed and the fan base has shrunk as a result.
Although the news site was revived in the form of Stand News, it has lost quite a number of readers.
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