Like Netflix For Journalism: Beacon Reader Aims To Fund Writers

Beacon Reader

Screenshot of Beacon Reader

In 2013, if you can dream it, you can crowd-fund it. From organic eateries to indie movies, it seems that anything is possible with the power of the public’s pockets—and that includes journalism. 

Last week, tech pros Adrian Sanders and Dmitri Cherniak, along with former Time writer Dan Fletcher launched Beacon Reader, a news site where readers access articles by personally funding their favorite writers.

The idea came to Mr. Sanders when he and Mr. Cherniak were working on Backspaces, a storytelling app for iPhone. “We built up a nice community of 70,000 users, 200,000 stories, 5 million reads, and it was going really well, [but]  the best storytellers on Backspaces could only create stories once in a while, because it was more or less a hobby,” Mr. Sanders said. “How do journalists make money at this?”

It’s getting harder out there for writers trying to sell work to a society of consumers who expect to get information for free. For Beacon’s cofounders, the solution was a news site that seeks primarily to empower writers and not to rake in page views. On Beacon, readers can subscribe to freelancers from across the globe for $5 per month, which the site claim gives the freelancers the funding they need to report and write quality stories.

“For me, the obvious predecessors to Beacon are Netflix and Andrew Sullivan,” said Nicholas B. Jackson, digital director at Pacific Standard magazine and adviser to Beacon. A Nieman Journalism Lab article also compared Beacon to Dutch site Die Nieuwe Pers, where subscribers can follow their favorite writers, and Tugboat, a crowd-funding site for media publishers.

But if users cringe at having to pay a measly $0.99 for a week of unlimited New York Times articles, will readers really be down to pay $5 per month for Beacon?

“I genuinely don’t know the answer to how many people are really willing to pay $60 a year to read journalists they can read in other places,” said Beacon freelancer Joshua Foust, adding, however, that Beacon’s still an interesting idea with potential.

“I’m hoping that our generation is getting smart enough to have a desire for rigorously reported, carefully thought-through, fact-checked, reported analysis,” said Steven Gray, another Beacon freelancer. “I’m hoping that people in our generation will be willing to pay for it.”

And as Mr. Jackson pointed out, $5 gives subscribers access to not just one, but 28 journalists’ work—and even more to come in the future. The price will stay the same, but the value of the subscription will increase. (For clarification, your funding goes to one individual journalist but gives you access to everybody’s work.)

Still, another question remains: whether $5 per month from each reader will amount to much, particularly in this cash sucker of a city (Mr. Sanders said that “the majority” of subscription fees go to the writer).

“The money that I generate from Beacon will not pay my rent, my mortgage or my car payment,” said Mr. Gray, who lives in D.C. “But the money that we earn from Beacon will help support my reporting.”

And plus, noted Mr. Sanders, “We have writers living all over the world. We have some writers that are living in Vietnam. If they’re doing 100 subscribers a month on Beacon, that’s more than enough to cover their monthly rent.”

Log on to Beacon, and you’ll find you won’t be able to access any of Beacon’s articles without entering your credit card information for a two-week trial, after which point you’ll be charged. “So you have to start this free 14-day trial to see the articles?” OTR asked Mr. Sanders.

“Unless you don’t believe in supporting journalists,” Mr. Sanders countered

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