Is there a viable Digital only News Business Model ?

One of the learnings from the past few years seeing the News Business up close is the steep barrier faced by a digital only news platform.

Take any of the industry benchmarks from the various agencies be it Comscore or Alexa or SimplyMeasured one thing becomes abundantly clear — the top tier of english news sites is dominated completely by Brands that have either a print presence or a tv presence and in some cases both.

Digital only news sites barely make it to the Top 10 English news sites list and they trail the mainstream media sites (print and tv) by a wide margin.

This raises an important question on whether there is a viable business model for digital only english news in India. The question becomes even more acute if you are not a full service news site focused on all categories of news but are more narrowly focused on Politics and Current Affairs.

A parallel phenomenon is how most News has become a commodity to the point where one no longer “discovers” anything interesting on the Google News Home Page.

For nearly a decade now I had stopped visiting the Home Pages of leading newspapers and TV sites. The Google News Home Page was my default landing page for all news but in the last two years that has changed as well. As much as Google would like to claim that placement of news on its Home Page was algorithm driven, the Top News section has become a stale commentary on the commoditisation of News with the same content from PTI being aggregated by Google News from multiple sites and mindlessly labelled “Opinion” and “In Depth”. In fact three fourths of the Google News Home Page is crowded by commodity news reporting sourced from PTI and regurgitated by different media outlets. The only interesting section for “discovery” these days on Google News is the “Suggested for You” section.

If the commoditisation of News has rendered Google News dysfunctional for discovery, the worsening signal to noise ratio on Twitter is making open Social Media platforms like Twitter unusable for discovery. Little wonder that most of discovery is shifting to more private and trusted settings on Facebook, WhatsApp and good old email.

This brings me back to my original question if there is a viable Business Model for a Digital only News Platform that does not have the luxury of drawing traffic from its existing Print and TV brands ?