In the last decade, a few journalism start-ups have launched in Spain, despite the financial struggles caused by the economy and the complicated state of the print journalism industry.
Digital-only news outlet El Diario launched in 2012, and has since gathered more than 20,000 paying members, while its counterpart El Español followed three years later with successful crowdfunding campaign and a subscription model of its own.
El Diario and El Español, like many other start-ups in Europe and elsewhere, chose to enter the market as digital natives, but Catalonian newspaper Ara was founded in 2010 as a print and online daily.
Its aim since the beginning was to serve a particular community: the “socially committed, politically concerned and culturally active citizens”, said Salvador Garcia, chief executive officer of Ara.
“The focus on this community represents the guarantee of viability and independence of the project, as well as giving meaning to its founding manifesto: to explain what is happening in the world in a critical, constructive and independent manner,” he added.
“Print gives you influence and loyalty, which brings advertising and subscribers… there was an opportunity in Catalonia to launch a newspaper like ours.”
Ara has 130 staff members across editorial and commercial, and even though they have a print product, the team has a “digital-first” mindset, Garcia said. Everything that appears in the newspaper can also be found online, but the additional content on the website aims to complement it and go deeper into the news and topics covered.
“We think that when people buy the newspaper, they already have an idea of what has happened, so we try to give them more context and further information so they can interpret what they know.”
This approach ties into Ara’s subscription strategy too. The paywall is metered, so non-paying readers get 10 free articles a month without having to register, before being asked to subscribe.
The outlet has 40,000 subscribers, split evenly between readers who pay for the digital version (€95 per year), and print subscribers who also receive online access (between €30 and €76 year per trimester, depending on print frequency).
The most popular subscription is the weekend print edition of Ara, Garcia said, while the digital-only option (which includes mobile and tablet) serves as an entry point to get readers to pay for print later on.
“Many readers use their 10 free monthly clicks and then they get a special offer, and we have different landing pages depending on where people are coming from to give them tailored offers.
“What we try to do most of the time is make sure they have the Monday to Sunday digital access, because once they have that, we work to get them to upgrade.
“It’s a process, first digital access, then the weekend paper, and eventually Monday to Sunday [in print]. So if you start with only the weekend, then we will offer you Monday to Friday for example, and so on.”
Ara has around two million monthly visitors and its coverage is available in the Catalan language only, although a few stories per day are translated into English, because the editorial team feels some news events are relevant to a global audience. They have also noticed interest from Catalans living abroad, who share the translations with their peers to explain what is going on in the region.
In a way, publishing in Catalan and not in Spanish is limiting the audience Ara can reach, but the Catalan-speaking community in the country is around 8.5 million people, including Barcelona and its surroundings, the region of Valencia and the Balearic Islands. Over the weekend, Ara distributes copies of its print newspaper in Valencia and they also a produce a special version for the Balearic Islands called Ara Baleares.
Subscriptions are Ara’s main source of income (41 per cent), having overtaken advertising revenue in 2015. Revenue from readers is also 2.5 times more significant than income derived from newsstand sales, Garcia said.
Other than through subscriptions, readers also support the outlet by purchasing merchandise such as books, CDs and attending events.
Next week, Ara will be hosting an event to celebrate the yearly Catalan tradition of building ‘castells’, which are human towers up to 10 stories high. At another event the same week, the team will be bringing two reputable economists in conversation to talk about sustainability.
Ara events are monetised through sponsorship and ticket sales, which subscribers often receive priority and discounts for. However the gatherings are open to non-subscribers too, as opposed to the approach taken by other subscription-based or non-profit outlets, where events are mainly included as exclusive perks for paying members.
Ara’s main challenge going forward is growing its subscriber base, Garcia added, which involves continuing its editorial and commercial efforts to get to know its existing and potential paying readers better.
In Ara’s community, some people subscribe to other publications, but some do not or they have never paid for news before subscribing to Ara.
“We don’t know if, some years from now, we will have more or less advertising than we do now. In terms of print distribution, it could be more, but we are focused on our subscribers.
“I like to compare our subscribers with people who pay for Spotify. They are willing to pay eight euros per month for something they could more or less get for free, and that’s valuable for us and also for our advertisers,” said Garcia.