Can InDenverTimes pull in $3 million? Doubtful

By Steve Outing

Hmmm. InDenverTimes, the digital-only “replacement” for the dearly departed Rocky Mountain News, to be staffed by about 35 former Rocky journalists and funded by three non-publisher entrepreneurs, wants to get by on paid subscriptions (at least initially). If 50,000 noble people sign up for monthly subscriptions by April 23 (which would have been the 150th anniversary of the Rocky), then the venture will launch. Online (and at some point mobile) readers will pay $5 a month if they sign up for a full year (that is, $60 up front; pay more per month for shorter subscription terms).

Can they make it?

Well, first off, there’s the challenge of getting people to pay for something that doesn’t exist yet. That’s unlike ponying up when your local NPR station begs for money, since the station is operating and broadcasting and podcasting content, so that’s a challenge. Paying in advance to get is an altruistic act to keep journalism from at least completely falling apart in Denver. (If the group doesn’t get at least close to the 50K goal, none of the donors will get charged.)

Of course, the InDenverTimes staff is a known quantity; it’s not quite a start-up, since the site is being hyped as staffed by former Rocky journalists, and intended to replace the Rocky, minus the paper part and with less news. (The group couldn’t get the Rocky Mountain News brand or URL because owner E.W. Scripps is keeping it tied up; one of’s co-founders told me he’d be interested in bidding on it if it became available. And the Denver Post grabbed about 10 of the Rocky’s top journalists.)

I’m not going to get into the argument of whether charging content will work or not. But briefly, the InDenverTimes model is that news is free, but some set of “premium” content is behind the subscription pay wall, and the ability to post comments and interact with the journalists is part of the pay plan, too.

There’s already skepticism about hitting the 50,000-subscriber goal in a little over a month. For comparison’s sake, I looked for stats on NPR station pledge drives. WBUR in Boston during a recent pledge drive had 7,770 people participating, with an average gift of $105 per donor. Boston is a much larger city than Denver. That’s $815,850. Other drives have brought in as much as $1 million. And NPR outlets do two pledge drives per year.

I couldn’t find stats on Denver’s NPR station and its membership drives. But if that Boston station is bringing in less than $2 million a year from memberships (equivalent to’s paid subscriptions), then the news website’s goal for raising $3 million in a short time is overly ambitious and probably unreachable.

Founding managing editor Steve Foster admits that the initial subscription drive is very NPR-like, in that InDenverTimes is asking the community to support its start-up. But after that, he expects that continuing subscribers and new ones attracted down the road will pay because of the content. And advertising sales will be added later on (no ad sales people at launch).

I wish them luck. They’ll need it, because the odds are against reaching that goal. I’m all for experiments like this, but the business model doesn’t look achievable. I hope they’ll prove me wrong.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

7 Responses to "Can InDenverTimes pull in $3 million? Doubtful"

  1. Ben
    Ben 8 years ago .Reply

    Thanks for looking into the stats, Steve. It’s quite a large gamble to say if they don’t at least hit 50k donors won’t be charged. I wonder if there are any plans to operate at whatever funds are raised, rather than scrapping it all and giving up?

  2. Tom Baker
    Tom Baker 8 years ago .Reply

    No ad sales people? Local advertisers still need ways to reach customers, and there are plenty of services that a local news company could be providing to them, online as well as offline (even in print!). Why throw this source of revenue out the window entirely?

  3. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Tom: That was my first reaction. WTF? Their plan is to start out with this subscription drive concept, based on power of Rocky nostalgia and power of that brand, then later add sales people once product is up and running with an audience.

  4. Judith Houlding
    Judith Houlding 8 years ago .Reply

    Some disconnected jottings:
    The most recent Denver NPR membership drive goal was $800,000, but I “tuned out” at around $725,000 — i.e, I don’t know if the goal was reached.

    Last week I ended up at the Minn Post’s site and in a moment of ?weakness, camaraderie?, sent them a $50 subscription/donation. Was I paying for the content, or just making an admittedly self-interested (J School grad student hoping for work someday) gesture? I don’t know the stats on the Minn Post’s success rate for subscriptions, but it might be pertinent to this discussion.

  5. Meridith
    Meridith 8 years ago .Reply

    It is intriguing to hear of the adjustments being made in journalism today. It definitely will be interesting to see if they reach the 50K goal or even come close to it. I am curious to see if users will pay for content and interactions that are free on other sites such as FOX News and CNN. Is this what is coming next? With print papers going online, are users expected to keep paying?

  6. Bill
    Bill 8 years ago .Reply

    It’s going to die within 12 hours.

  7. […] sign that a newspaper is going to charge for content as a pathetic move that’ll never work. In some cases, that’s clearly true. But there’s an actual chance of success if publications approach […]

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