It’s the community, stupid: Build a relationship and money will follow

A less than successful Mario and beauty queen at a community Halloween carnival in Imperial Beach, Calif. Credit: Khari Johnson.
A less than successful Mario and beauty queen at a community Halloween carnival in Imperial Beach, Calif. Credit: Khari Johnson.

During his campaign to make Bill Clinton president, political strategist James Carville made a phrase famous: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Meaning no matter how important other issues may seem, it’s the economy that matters most.

Think the opposite way in media, says Mathew Ingram, formerly of Gigaom and now at Fortune Magazine. Don’t dwell on your business model. Get your relationship with your readers right first and the money will follow.

I guess when you’re a media entity of any kind – large, small, alternative, traditional, new, individual – I think you’re…

Business models, that whole question sounds really complicated. It sounds like you have to be an accountant, like you have to figure out the entire value chain before you even start doing anything, I think in a lot of ways if you have a very clear goal, if you are, say, passionate about a specific topic or a range of topics, and you focus intensely on that and you do the best job you possibly can and you focus on creating a relationship with readers or members who are also passionate about that topic, ways to monetize that will appear.

And I don’t want to say it’s magic, but if you create that strong relationship with your readers, they will volunteer to give you money. They will figure out ways to give you money. It’s that relationship.

That is the… you can come up with the business model and the thesis and you can describe it on a flow chart and it will fail if you do not have that relationship with those readers, with that community. That’s what you’re monetizing, their trust in you, and if that isn’t the first thing you’re doing, you’re going to fail. It doesn’t matter what the model is.

Ingram made his remarks last week while participating in a panel discussion about new business models in journalism at the International Journalism Festival. His words echo comments made by media entrepreneurs interviewed by Through the Cracks, who say things like “Crowdfunding isn’t about collecting money.”

Crowdfunding was a big part of the panel talk, with input from crowdfunded Dutch news startups De Correspondent and Blendle. De Correspondent raised $1 million in about a week in 2013 to create a news website. Blendle, often called the iTunes of news, gets its money from micropayments. Both ventures didn’t exist a few years ago but now have plans or are discussing plans to go international soon.

Ingram’s thoughts on crowdfunding and new business models have appeared several times on Through the Cracks.

Answering questions from Through the Cracks a few weeks ago in a #wjchat Twitter chat, Ingram expressed his desire to see more large companies experiment with crowdfunding and that the phrase “innovation happens on the edges” applies to some successful crowdfunding campaigns.

Other articles about crowdfunding in journalism by Ingram:

– In response to critcism of a Beacon Reader-Huffington Post campaign to keep a reporter on the ground in Feguson, MO, Ingram argued that crowdfunding is about more than money.

– Ben Thompson’s Stratechery blog makes $100,000 a year by crowdfunding on his own website and the rapid growth of the Canadaland podcast.

– Canadaland’s Patreon campaign brought in more than $4,000 a month in its first weeks and now brings in more than $10,000 a month, money being used now to turn the podcast into a news network.

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Khari Johnson
Khari is founder and editor of Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism. He also writes about bots and artificial intelligence for VentureBeat. He has built news startups in the U.S. and Europe for the last decade.