As a freelance writer who has seen his pool of magazines and newspapers shrink over the past three years because of the public’s expectation of free online news, I’ve been watching a new crowdfunding startup for freelancer journalists called Beacon Reader, and I’m wondering if it will be the answer.
The model is pretty simple. Readers support one journalist they follow/enjoy with a $5.00 monthly subscription fee paid directly to Beacon Reader, and the reader gains access to everything that writer, and every other writer on the site, has written or will continue to write. Currently, the website says the company has 80 journalists in 30+ countries.
Beacon Reader does take a 30% cut of the $5.00 subscription fee – a portion of which is paid out in bonuses for the best performing articles. With that said, journalists keep all rights to their work, so this really is a new model. And articles are ad-free, which is a welcome change from the flurry of floating, blinking, sneaky, embedded, intrusive ads we often see on news websites.
Writers are guaranteed 70% of each subscription fee and are paid montly, which, assuming Beacon Reader keeps up their end of the bargain, is a real benefit for freelancers who have no control over when a check is going to be cut under the old model.
For this new model to really work, the process largely relies on journalists to reach out to readers they have already built relationships with – people who know and trust their work and are willing to support it.
Will that work?
The model has already successfully funded quite a few journalists on the site. One project raised nearly $4,000 to fund a journalist who is reporting on Vietnam’s “invisible children.” Another raised over $9,000 to support a journalist who wants to write about acidic oceans. Another project raised nearly $1,000 for a journalist who is writing about South Korean culture.
The Huffington Post is trying to raise $40,000 on the Beacon Reader site over the next three weeks to fund a journalist for one year to report about what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri (to date, they have raised nearly $8,000).
Clearly some readers are willing to support journalists who write about topics they care about. But are there enough of those types of readers?
I just don’t know.
Here’s a recent video interview with co-founder, Adrian Sanders, about the business model. Regardless of whether you are a journalist, or a reader, I’d love for you to watch the video and then offer your opinion. If you are a freelance journalist, would you consider using the service? If you are a reader, would you support a journalist with $5.00 a month?