If you’re an avid ZimLive reader you would have noticed that the online publication accepts donations by now.
Similar to The Guardian which places a plea for donation at the end of each article, ZimLive is asking its readers to spare what they can to help improve the quality of content they output.
The message asking for donations at the end of ZimLive articles shares quite a bit regarding why they’ve chosen to go down this path.
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Firstly, ZimLive hopes to use the funds donated by readers to actually improve and diversify their content:
We set out to create a current, authoritative, clarifying and vital news service. We believe we have had partial success, but to achieve our full ambitions, we need more financial resources to invest in more journalists, and journalism tools to deliver a richer digital mix of news, tapping into the progress in graphics, audio and video in particular.ZimLive
We got in touch with Mduduzi Mathuthu – Editor of ZimLive who explained that the move was inspired by a recent trip to South Africa:
I attended a workshop recently and there was a gentleman from DailyMaverick in South Africa who spoke about how a huge chunk of their revenue comes from individual donors. Of course South Africa is a whole new situation, compared to Zimbabwe and they have people with deep pockets over there who would want to support a cause like journalism. So we said why not give it a try and seeMduduzi Mathuthu – ZimLive Editor
Why can’t they rely on advertising as news publishers have always done? When browsing online, how often do you come across a local company advertising? Not so often, because most companies aren’t taking advantage of the medium. ZimLive admits as much:
Zimbabwe, our main market, has a virtually non-existent advertising industry owing to a tough economic environment, and the international digital display advertising market is currently weak – threats which imperil the future of online publishing.ZimLive
When you browse on a local website and you’re bombarded with foreign adverts, you’re less likely to click on them because they are not relevant to you and less likely to actually convert (i.e proceed to buy that item) which results in local publishers making very little from online ads. Far from what they need to output quality journalism.
Daily News, until recently, chose to go with a subscription model instead of advertising. That path has its own issues which we discussed here but ultimately the intention by Daily News was to capture value for their content.
ZimLive also touched on the fact that quality journalism costs money as the people behind it have to be of a certain skill level and the tools used to create the most engaging content also come at a cost:
Distinctive, original, quality and expert reporting that expands our readers’ understanding of current affairs and helps them navigate it consumes a lot of money and takes time to produce, but despite the hardships, we want to keep going and do more to tell the complete Zimbabwean story, because at the heart of our commitment is the belief that our perspective matters.
We want to maintain and strengthen our position in the years ahead, but our work requires your support.
Consider a donation, however big or small, as your generosity is what will keep us going.
Thus far, ZimLive’s Editor says the support they’ve received is from people who have debit and credit cards and they, therefore, expect “most of the support will come from Zimbabwean expats.”
Two weeks in, the picture for ZimLive is promising according to their Editor but ultimately he is still unsure whether the model will work or not. Whilst ZimLive are banking on their hybrid model, Mduduzi believes that for journalism to be sustainable in this country there is need for change:
With Google Adsense, no Zimbabwean businesses are supported because we really have no businesses that sell internationally on a scale that makes it worthwhile for them to look at us as a market.
So it has to be said that we really need to fix our country first, then our businesses will have a story to tell and products to sell, and news websites will have the native online audiences to engage with those adverts. For now, we are closed for local business, and not by choice. I really feel for marketers who must explain to their publishers why they are failing to take print advertising online, it will not work. Simple.
Online publishers in Zimbabwe and globally are having a hard time finding the best model to monetise their output. At one point we saw The Herald, NewsDay and Daily News resort to posting snippets of their stories online whilst the full versions of stories were appearing in the physical copies of papers sold in the streets.
Whilst those three didn’t cite revenue as the main concern behind that move, it’s a reflection of how little revenue these publications were making online. So little that they could afford to remove stories online altogether.
Some have gone with subscription models, The Daily News and Fingaz come to mind. Mduduzi believes their approach to subscription models wasn’t successful for two reasons, the execution and the market itself:
The problem with that is those who have tried this model, I think the Financial Gazette and The Daily News mainly, do not update their websites throughout the day and just want people to subscribe for what’s already published in the paper, most of it not exclusive anyway.
Ultimately, Mduduzi believes Zimbabwe is “too small a market to even put the content behind a paywall” and therefore ZimLive aren’t considering going that route.
Local media houses continue to battle with finding sustainable business models to continue publishing on the internet, it will be interesting to see how the model adopted by ZimLive contributes to their work and we hope they succeed.
[Update: This story was updated on 23/02/2020 to include the perspective of ZimLive’s Editor Mduduzi Mathuthu]