About OWNI and its business model

My favorite online mag OWNI in France just got rewarded for the second time by the US Online News Association's (ONA) annual awards for its General Excellence in Online Journalism prize for a non-English small site.

Yes. Even if they are a bunch of French people, they are now maintaining an english version. The whole things start in 2009 with the creation of a blog community hostile to  HADOPI  - a twisted law which aimed to (de)regulate access Internet in France. Founded to protect digital rights in France, it has already become an example of what online journalism can produce of pertinent content (from datajournalism to topic-related app) and subversive tools, like the Irak warlogs browser.

Dynamic of innovation

"OWNI is a state-of-the-art model for augmented journalism without advertising or paywalls.", quote journalism.co.uk in an interview with the founder. But how can you sustain a media without advertisement? Especially when all your content is available for free under Creative Commons Licence ?

The real engine that keeps OWNI turning is innovation: "We are lab of serendipity" in"permanent beta. We do innovation journalism", as one of the founder Nicolas Voisin explained in its NOv 2009 editorial.

We are an innovative Media Group:

- Innovation as an editorial process
Editorial based on mid/long-term projects (topics) that gather designers, programmers, journalists, bloggers, etc.

- Innovation as a topic

impact of digital new media on society and its mutation

- Innovation as an economy of independence
Mixt economy profit/non-profit : "we keep control on our shareholders : we owned 70% of the capital"

Write code to sustain content

OWNI is curated by 22mars SAS, a "social media edition society" that aims to design and build social media, t. The revenues come as follow :

  • 20% from consulting and
  • 40% website creation - for other online publications
  • 40% augmented application and data visualization

"The overabundance of information provoked a collapse in advertising revenu (...). The line of code is the winning line for a digital press publisher " claims Nicolas Voisin.

Between profit and non-profit

The non-profit platform ProPublica has proved recently the value that can be produced by this kind of media in being awarded of a Pulitzer Prize. Funded  by the American billionaire, Herbert M. Sandler, it is now run  with a budget of around 10 million/year. Another proof of " The attractiveness of the hybrid profit/non-profit model allows for fiscal synergies" through donations mechanisms.

In parallel of OWNI's editorial activities, a non-profit 501(c) owned by the founders has been created, authorizing those kind of low-rate loan (€250k, 0% APR) from the mother structure to OWNI (read more here).

Strong editorial guidelines and content structuration

To conclude, I'd like to quote OWNI editor's blog to give an overview of the editorial objectives they have fixed to themselves:

A lab for innovative journalism, OWNI must always remain on the cutting edge of what’s new in datajournalism, a new way of presenting information withvisualizations, dynamic infographicsdatabase journalism and interactive tools. (...) OWNI wanted to offer its audience constructivecritical andtechnophile ideas.

After the big challenge of the next decade where the advertising-only business model has taken over most of online media, it seems finally that online writing and journalism will not perish so easily. When writing code and news has never been closer, a new guidelines for news policies inspired by innovation and open-source movement + a deeper implication  in all layers of social activities will bring this renewal to the whole profession. And also some new hopes for readers to eventually get some information worth to be read.

A question? A comment?

Please send it to me by email bonjour@clementrenaud.com or on Twitter.