Sources of Income
An important source of operating revenue for community news co-ops will be a continuing stream of members’ annual membership payments. Co-ops offer their members greater value than public broadcasting stations and other community Web journalism efforts — to make the distinction, we refer to co-op memberships as “deep memberships.”
Web-based news co-ops are just emerging in the Unites States but reader-owned cooperatives have long published newspapers in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Mexico, and there are listener-owned co-op radio stations in Canada.
Co-ops can also rely on advertising revenue, engage in crowdfunding and seek foundation grants. As the co-ops mature some should be able to draw from ancillary sales.
What sets the news co-op revenue model apart from that of all other Web journalism efforts is what it monetizes: Legacy models monetize 1) readers’ attention by selling it to advertisers, and 2) the news, by selling it to readers as subscriptions. The co-ops’ news will be delivered free to all. It will serve as a magnet to readers, and readers who place enough value on the co-op’s civic contribution and other benefits will be enrolled as paying co-op members. Most fundamentally, what Banyan-model news co-ops monetize is a sense of civic possibility.
Memberships—The co-op model rests on the premise that a significant fraction of co-ops’ readers will become members. Basic memberships fees are envisioned at $60 a year, which works out to only $5 a month. Members can choose levels that range upward to $500 a year; budget memberships will be available for $36, and people poor enough to receive means-tested benefits, such as food stamps, may receive no-cost scholarships. Unlike public broadcasting memberships and membership in some non-cooperative news efforts, the Banyan deep-membership model offers members a small piece of equity and a vote in choosing trustees, a bigger voice in the digital town square, and much more.
Advertising—This too should be a significant stream. Because news co-ops will be community institutions, advertising will be limited to local businesses. One important form of advertising would be sponsorships by the community’s major businesses and institutions. In addition, Banyan-model co-ops will offer a special category of co-op membership for businesses that would gain them a directory listing, an advertising discount and other benefits.
Crowdfunding—The idea of getting readers to chip in together to fund a particular reporting project has proven crucial to journalism projects in many communities from coast to coast that use web crowdfunding platforms.
Grants—Some co-ops will seek grants from local funders for special projects.