Last November, we launched the Google News Initiative (GNI) Asia Pacific Innovation Challenge, aimed at strengthening our support of digital innovation and new business models in news organizations across the APAC region. Through our work and partnership with publishers, it’s clear that reader revenue is key to their financial stability. We want to support innovators in this space—those who are pioneering approaches that involve everything from granting digital currency to subscription-based membership models.
Within two months of opening up the Innovation Challenge, we received 215 applications from 18 countries. We heard from news startups in Indonesia, web publishers in Mongolia and Nepal, and video and audio broadcasters in Australia. After a rigorous review, a round of interviews and a thorough jury selection process, we ended up providing support to 23 projects in 14 countries—amounting to a total of $3.2 million.
Creative approaches to reader revenue
When we called for applications, we listed four criteria: impact, feasibility, innovation and inspiration. The winners demonstrated a combination of each. Several themes emerged from the applications we reviewed, including:
Building or renovating membership models: For startups, this may just mean building a membership model. For established players, this can include creating group subscriptions, more responsive platforms and better targeted newsletters. Crikey, an independent news organization based in Australia, has over 90 percent of its total revenue coming from individual subscribers. With the GNI funding, they plan to build a new subscription offering that can be tailored to organizations, businesses and groups of all sizes.
Leveraging machine learning and AI to surface more engaging content: A handful of organizations used trends emerging from big data to surface relevant and engaging content to potential subscribers. CommonWealth Magazine, a Taiwanese news organization, built a paywall in 2017 and enjoyed early success. It will now make this model more dynamic, leveraging AI and machine learning to develop personalized content—including a customized newsletter—to increase and improve reader engagement.
Gamification to create community-wide sharing: A final category learnt how to gamify the process of sharing or commenting on content. News organizations are experimenting with rewarding especially engaged readers with badges or tokens that can be used to pay for access to events. Asahi Shimbun, a national news publisher in Japan, believes that readers will be experimenting with gamification via tips. Tips are a common way of expressing their gratitude or affection, so why not extend this to the world of journalism? They will be issuing points to subscribers in order for them to “tip” stories and helping expand the market to non-subscribers so that they can do the same.
There were 20 others that received GNI support, all equally impressive in their own right. Check them out here:
Finally, to every organization who applied, thank you for your time and effort. There will be a second round of the APAC GNI Innovation Challenge later this year, and we encourage you all to re-apply. Watch out for details on our website.