Here’s what happened to that world-record in journalism crowdfunding

Lessons from year one of De Correspondent

Ernst-Jan Pfauth
The Correspondent


In November 2013, GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram reported on the Dutch journalism crowdfunding campaign which led to the founding of our publication, De Correspondent:

It will be fascinating to watch De Correspondent, and see whether it can follow through on the incredible promise demonstrated by raising $1.7 million.

In the comments section, someone replied:

I give this venture 8 months. Seen this movie before.

I have to admit this comment made me nervous at the time. Would we be able to become a valuable publication? Would our crowdfunding members like the way we executed the idea in which they had invested? Or would we go down in history as merely a crowdfunding success?

Today, one year after our official launch on September 30th, 2013 , I’m thrilled to announce that more than half of our crowdfunding group has already renewed its membership and will stay with us.

So far, 11.000 of the 18.933 crowdfunders renewed their memberships. We think more of them will follow in the coming week — when they won’t be able to log in — but I already wanted let you know we’ve now grown from a crowdfunding success into a publication with a sustainable membership of 28.o00 members who pay €60 ($76 ) a year (since our launch, 17.000 new members have signed up). I’d also like to take the opportunity to share some lessons from year one.

(For those of you who don’t know De Correspondent yet: we’re a Dutch-language, ad-free online journalism platform that focuses on background, analysis, investigative reporting, and the kinds of stories that tend to escape the radar of mainstream media because they do not conform to what is normally understood to be ‘news.’)

We showed members what happens with their membership fee

To celebrate our first anniversary, we wrote two reports for our members about how we’ve set up our publication. The first one shows how we spent membership fees from January 1st until August 1st this year, hoping it would give them insight in how we will invest their money if they renew.

You can read the report here (probably with a little help from Google Translate) and I’ve translated the most important graphic:

Infographic designed by our co-founding partner Momkai

Second, our editor in chief Rob Wijnberg wrote an article about the impact of De Correspondent on journalism and society. For example, he shared those stories that led to questions in national Parliament and a map of places where our reporters wrote stories:

Infographic designed by our co-founding partner Momkai

We also published a post in which our authors, photo editor, editor in chief, creative director and me, as publisher, share our biggest problems and mistakes and how we intend to do better next year. We don’t have any advertisers to please, we can focus on just the needs of our members.

Our members have let us know that they appreciate our following up on how we spend their money. It also led to some interesting discussions about how a publication should prioritize its spending.

We’ve put a face to our correspondents

At De Correspondent, we believe that journalists should work together with readers, since every reader is an expert at something. And 3,000 teachers know more than just one education correspondent. That’s why we see our journalists as conversation leaders and our members as contributing experts (read more on that mission and the strategies it leads to).

To make De Correspondent more personal and thus strengthen the bond between our readers and journalists, we’ve asked our correspondents to explain, in a video, their plans for year two (and beyond). Here’s a compilation with English subtitles:

We invited members to share articles

We think our members are our best ambassadors; therefore they can share as many of our articles as they want. When they share an article, a notification bar tells their friends and followers: ‘This article has been shared with you by …’, followed by the member’s name. This strategy seems to work for now, since the ‘New visitors’ and ‘New members’ graphs show similar patterns. Moreover, we can tell that a lot of new visitors sign up right after reading an article. Since our launch on September 30th last year, 17.000 new members have signed up.

We aim all our marketing efforts at our likers

When we do invest in advertising, we focus all our efforts on our Facebook likers. There are many of them, over 75k, which is more than two times the size of our membership. There’s an enormous potential there. Moreover, we are quite dependent on Facebook when it comes to social traffic, and by asking likers to become members, we can turn the relationship into something more sustainable. We’ve even organized a ‘Likers Become Members Day’ (which alliterated in Dutch: Likers Worden Lid). On this day, we explained our likers how they could make new stories possible. Oh, and we also posted a photo of our office cat:

This helped many would-be members to decide in favor of a membership. Photo by Bas Losekoot

And we published a book

When our author Rutger Bregman told us he wanted to write a book about the ideas he had shared on De Correspondent, we immediately offered him to publish it ourselves. It seemed like a logical next step in the journalistic process and offered us an opportunity to innovate within the Dutch e-book market.

For example, we’ve made the e-book 60 percent cheaper than the print edition (which is exceptional for the Netherlands) and got rid of all security measures, such as DRM. We actually encourage readers to share the e-book with their friends. Also, we sold the book on our own platform with a Shopify shop, allowing us to not charge any shipping costs (since we don’t have to split the revenue with a store).

The book cover, designed by our co-founder and creative director Harald Dunnink

Bregman advocates utopian thinking to face the coming challenges of this century. The book is titled Free Money for Everyone. And five other big ideas that can change the world and will be available in English sometime next year. You can get a taste of it by reading an extract published by The Washington Post.

Our lessons summarized:

  1. Explain how you spend your members’ money;
  2. Encourage journalists to work together with members;
  3. Your members are your best ambassadors;
  4. Reach out to people who already like you;
  5. Think beyond your platform when it comes to publishing your stories.

Thank you for reading! I’ll keep you posted about our next steps by writing stories on Medium. You can also like our international Facebook page, where we’ll share translated articles.

Please let me know if you have any questions by tweeting to @ejpfauth or by emailing me.