In June, Forbes India alumni joined hands to launch The Ken. There are two features that provide the website with a distinct identity when compared with the host of digital journalism start-ups that have come up in the recent past. The Ken publishes only one article on each weekday. Moreover, the website is subscription-driven. Some of the key people associated with the Bangalore-based venture include Rohin Dharmakumar, Seema Singh and Ashish Mishra.
“The Ken publishes one original, analytical and well-narrated story from India every day (weekdays only) for its subscribers. From technology, start-ups, business, science and healthcare,” states the website.
While the focus is clearly on meaningful long-form journalism, the website’s big headache will surely be to ensure a certain amount of subscribers to keep it going. But to say that The Ken is entirely powered by the paywall is not true. The website has its own set of investors who have been described as “successful” and “well-known”.
The website’s editors seem to be well aware of the problems that arise out of angel funding. Hence, they have a code of ethics that their employees are supposed to abide by. “If any story involves them (investors) and there is a potential conflict of interest, we will provide disclaimers at the end of such stories,” says The Ken’s code of ethics.
In India, print news consumers have often hesitated from paying for news. Publishers rely on advertisers for major revenues. In fact, the cost of a newspaper has at times been less than that of the newsprint. News television has also not succeeded at making viewers shell a substantial quantity of money for watching news.
As far as the online news space is concerned, attempts have been made to crowdsource money. Madhu Trehan’s Newslaundry has been pleading consumers “to pay to keep news free”. But unlike Newslaundry, if users don’t pay, they can’t access The Ken’s exclusive in-depth offerings.
The Ken has been up and running since a few months now. Therefore, it would have been interesting to know as to how many subscribers it has managed in the meantime. Another significant measure of its success would be the kind of traffic that it is attracting. To gather answers to such questions, exchange4media approached Dharmakumar, co-founder of the website.
However, our request for an interview was declined. “We do not have anything to comment at this point of time,” reads an email sent by Dharmakumar. Senior journalist Rifat Jawaid is not very enthusiastic about paywalls. Having worked for twelve years with BBC, he was quick to cite the examples of British newspapers like The Times and Financial Times.
“Their experience wasn’t really good,” he says. Jawaid now edits Janta Ka Reporter, a news website that is fast gaining in popularity. He admits that Janta Ka Reporter contemplated making access to high impact stories only through subscription. But he insists that subscriptions “won’t be a successful exercise” unless the content is “bloody good”.
“From an entrepreneurial point of view, it is a good idea but India is not ready,” he says. Since The Ken is attempting narrative journalism, the comparison with The Caravan is inevitable. The Caravan is essentially a magazine with an online presence whereas The Ken is a digital-only platform. Though The Caravan, published by Delhi Press, has created for itself a formidable reputation through its reportage, the cost of its digital subscription is not as high as The Ken.
In fact, the monthly subscription of The Ken at Rs 670 is costlier than the yearly digital subscription of The Caravan at Rs 540. The difference in pricing is understandable considering that The Ken doesn’t come out in print. Also, The Caravan’s digital subscription fetches the users a digital version of the magazine. It does not have a paywall per se.
“We release content on our website progressively. Since we don’t have a paywall, you can’t compare the two,” says a source at The Caravan. The official explained that niche magazines like The Caravan and The Economist have a sticky user base. Adding that there is a possibility that people can pay for such content, the source opined that the quantum remains unknown.
Besides its revenue model and content strategy, The Ken’s domain name is also a bit out of the league since it comes with a hyphen mark. The website’s reportage has started to ruffle feathers. A recent piece by The Ken titled “Of Rajasthan Patrika’s travails with Catch News” caused much disquiet at Catch. A source close to the development stated that the leak of critical inside information to The Ken infuriated the editor.