We’ve previously written that the death of the printing press doesn’t mean the death of the press. However, media organizations must evolve and work in new ways, a message that is starting to trickle throughout the press.
Back in November, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported a whopping 4m downloads of its Facebook app in two months, whilst in March The New York Times homed in on half-a-million digital subscribers, as it cut its free articles from 20 to 10 per month. So newspaper sales may be down, but there’s room for success where innovation is given space to maneuver.
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With that in mind, PostDesk is the latest media startup to hit the market, and it soft-launched last week in the build up to its full, public launch this week.
PostDesk professes to offer a platform for long-form editorial content, drawing on all the meaningful discussion and debate that (theoretically) goes with it. “We’re doing this to create a rich editorial experience, which gives many in-depth angles and perspectives to a given topical story,” says Sam England, PostDesk’s founder and Project Manager. “PostDesk is designed to give absolutely anyone with a desire to write – whatever their background – a platform in order for them to get the exposure they deserve.”
Indeed, there’s no shortage of websites out there aimed at tapping the citizen journalist fraternity or otherwise crowdsourcing news. There’s NewsiT, which recently raised $500,000 in seed funding. So what’s the difference with PostDesk?
PostDesk: ‘A destination site’
“NewsiT is nothing like PostDesk,” says England. “PostDesk isn’t crowd reporting or anything similar. NewsiT appears to be using crowdsourcing in order to create news for traditional mainstream media outlets. We’re very different.
“We are a curated platform – and a destination site,” he continues. “You’d come to PostDesk to see the latest topical and relevant discussions or debates in technology, gaming and to participate in them actively. Whilst initially we’re covering these areas, we plan to expand and scale in to other niches in the very near future.”
Indeed, PostDesk has been busy populating its site with content and building its community in preparation for its full launch, and at the time of writing there is a decent amount of quality content on there. But it’s difficult not to get away from the comparisons of other sites already out there. PostDesk may not be a crowdsourced news platform such as NewsiT, but it’s certainly of a similar ilk. It may be a slightly crude analogy, but I’d be tempted to say PostDesk is a little like The Huffington Post meets Blottr.
PostDesk’s writers consists of hand-picked core contributors, and the plan is that they will be paid. Within the community, they can discuss and debate around stories on the platform, and build a rapport (or fall-out…) through the comments. “Those who build the strongest followings, or have fascinating insights in to their field, will be invited to write as a core contributor on a regular or semi-regular basis,” adds England.
So once you build up a rapport and demonstrate an ability to engage in discourse, you may be invited to contribute. For the time-being, they’re still actively seeking in-house contributors and the public’s role is to participate in the debate around the published pieces.
The making of PostDesk
As with all the startups we cover, it’s good to delve a little deeper and understand the whys and hows of a platform coming to fruition.
“The idea from PostDesk came from having run a number of online communities and discussion forums from the age of 15,” says England. “I also had some freelancing experience, and most importantly an understanding of Web development.
“Having closely followed, and been involved in the UK startup scene, technology and gaming industries – and UK politics as a student for five years – I built up an excellent insight into these areas, as well as a close network of friends,” continues England. “After graduating university with a Law degree – I was in a perfect position to make the jump and start PostDesk as a serious venture.”
So PostDesk incorporated in January this year, and 21-year-old (yes, 21…) England became a startup founder and leader of six in-house developers and an editorial team (20 in-house contributors). Whichever way you look at it, that’s pretty good going for someone so young.
“Debate, discussion and communities has always been something myself and my fellow team members have been passionate about,” continues England. “Online – any feeling of ‘community’ has largely been lost in favour of the preexisting connections we have with those on Twitter, Facebook or similar services. Outside of niche link-sharing sites like Reddit and Hacker News, we have lost true communities that are built around common interests and around content. There is no single platform for long-form discussion and debate – yet everyone has an opinion to share on the latest goings on in their field; they just share the opinions through multiple @replies or through closed and private Facebook statuses.”
So England believes that Twitter, Facebook and the like are negatively impacting long-form discussion and debate online. And he says that at present, if you want to gain exposure for a long-form writing piece there are few respected outlets to fill this void. “Writing for these outlets is open for a proportionally small number of people in society as a whole, though I believe a huge number of people have a desire to share their writing and their opinion,” adds England.
PostDesk seeks to provide a voice to the international writing community – not for those breaking news stories in the Middle East or elsewhere, but for those who like to gaze out their bedroom window and offer their own insights on subjects they are either knowledgeable of or otherwise care passionately about. Or, if you’re a budding journo looking to make a name for yourself, PostDesk promises a slightly easier passage into investigative journalism and could prove a popular platform for young hacks to cut their teeth.
Crucially, PostDesk does all the legwork for its writers – it handles promotion and marketing of articles, whilst the writer does what they enjoy doing best…writing.
Show me the money…
England says that PostDesk isn’t looking for funding quite yet, and notes that the company is already profitable and has a “solid revenue model”. The startup has secured launch partners and sponsors for each section, as well as the main site. Moving forward, PostDesk is considering a revenue-sharing model which could potentially be available to everyone in the community.
But can sponsorship really be the sole revenue stream here? ” It’s certainly viable,” says England. “Having said that, we are actively exploring ways to monetize through content syndication, where we publish syndicated content from, say, a newspaper, and then provide the discussion platform around it. This would work vice versa too, where we syndicate a curated and in-depth debate out to a given publication.”
So it’s early doors, but we could see some two-way content partnerships come to fruition. England also says community events and meetups, and the associated sponsorships are also potential revenue streams. The startup largely work remotely for the time-being, or from co-working spaces in London. England says that an office is on the cards over the next month or so “as we need the physical place to build a strong product team.”
Back in February we reported on another long-form journalism project called Matter, which hit its $50,000 Kickstarter crowdfunding target in less than 40 hours. The project was created in response to the decline of long-form, feature-based reportage.
So what does England make of Matter…and does he see any similarity in the projects?
“Matter is an amazing project,” he says. “Whilst in many ways Matter and PostDesk are entirely different – there are many parallels between the two projects – specifically our core values and motives.”
Indeed, Matter will cover only one ‘unmissable story per week, and it will be more than 10,000 words in length. Stories on the site will cost $0.99 to read, and will be accessible from the website, the Kindle store, and via smartphones.
So…two long-form journalism startups in as many months. For PostDesk’s next iteration, we’re also told that mobile apps will be brought in to play and it will be 100% cross-platform.
We’ll be sure to monitor the progress of PostDesk (and Matter, for that matter…) and catch up with England & co. a little further down the road.