This case study is part of Resilience Reports, a series from the European Journalism Centre about how news organizations across Europe are adjusting their daily operations and business strategies as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
In a nutshell: Reporter Magazin created a special COVID-19 subscription deal for stay-at-home readers and ran a crowdfunding campaign to soften the economic blow of the pandemic.
When a local politician and billionaire bought most of the national newspapers in the Czech Republic in 2014, a number of well-respected journalists and editors quit their jobs and started their own news publications. Reporter Magazin was one of them.
Offering investigative reporting, interview profiles, essays and short stories, the monthly magazine seeks to replicate The New Yorker and The Atlantic and is funded as such, through both advertising and subscriptions.
But, when COVID-19 hit, the magazine suffered a significant drop in ad revenue, forcing its editor-in-chief to start a crowdfunding campaign and quickly launch a new online subscription deal for readers under lockdown.
What is Reporter Magazin?
Founded in September 2014, Reporter is a monthly investigative magazine that has earned a reputation for delivering strong independent journalism.
The magazine was launched by Robert Čásenský, former editor-in-chief of the respected daily newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes, and has won a number of Journalism Awards hosted by the Open Society Fund for its in-depth reporting.
Based in Prague, Reporter employs seven staff writers and a number of freelance photographers, designers and contributing writers.
The core of its operation is a monthly print magazine but the publication also operates a website where magazine content is published, most of which is behind a paywall. Two long reads are made available for free on the website a couple of weeks after they are published in print. Free-to-read, digital-only stories are also published online between print editions; these stories make up between 10 to 20% of the total content of the website.
As of May 2020, Reporter Magazin has 10,700 print and digital subscribers. Around half of the magazine’s total revenue comes from advertising. The other half of Reporter’s revenues come from subscriptions and branded editions, newsstand sales and some small sources such as grants.
Reporter also produces a branded edition of the magazine which includes advertorials for national brands. These editions, which are used as gifts for clients or customers, are marked on the front cover with “This copy is brought to you by,” followed by the name of the company. Reporter sells around 6,500 of these copies a month.
Czech Republic’s daily print market is highly concentrated, with only four nationwide quality newspapers, two tabloids and a network of regional newspapers. Most of these were owned by German and Swiss corporations that invested in the Czech media market after the collapse of the Soviet-controlled systems in 1989.
Since 2008, the circulation of most dailies has declined by 5-10% each year, leading some of these companies to exit the market. This provided local Czech and Slovak oligarchs the chance to buy up national and regional publishing houses, which has become a growing threat to press freedom.
Though Czech journalists are less constrained than their counterparts in Hungary or Poland, the country has dropped in the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index from 13 in 2014 to 40 in 2020.
How did Reporter Magazin handle the COVID-19 crisis?
The strict lockdown measures put in place in early March decimated Prague’s thriving tourism industry, and affected Reporter Magazin’s airline and tourism advertisers. Other major advertisers that the magazine relies on, such as the car industry, have struggled too. While no major Czech media organizations have closed, many are struggling with some cutting staff wages.
Although most newsstands remained open during lockdown and Reporter faced no issues with magazine deliveries, the lockdown has undoubtedly accelerated the decline in domestic daily newspaper sales. According to data from ABC ČR, March newsstand sales decreased by 7% compared to February this year, and by 16% year-on-year. 20,000 fewer daily newspapers were sold per day than in February.
Reporter changed its editorial output in response to COVID-19 as early as February. One of its writers was in Iran to cover the parliamentary elections but ended up writing an in-depth report showing how the coronavirus had exacerbated the political instability between citizens, the government and the Ayatollah.
In its April issue, the magazine showcased personal stories of people hard-hit by the pandemic, including a doctor, a football player a and restaurateur. The May issue investigated how the face of Prague will change as a result of the lack of visiting tourists.
On March 12 — the same day that the government shut schools — Reporter launched a new online subscription offer. For 1 CZK ( €.04 EUR and $.04), readers were given unlimited online access to all stories published on their website since 2014, including those stories behind the paywall. The subscription was initially for one month but the offer was extended for an additional month in line with the lockdown extension. 1,200 readers signed up for this option.
In order to further alleviate the financial effect of the pandemic, Reporter launched Reporter Premium, a new subscription tier that includes access to an in-depth interview every weekday. The interviews will also involve COVID-19 experts or people who are successfully coping with the crisis.
A crowdfunding campaign was launched to seek reader’s support with the initial; costs of the premium tier. The team created 30 different crowdfunding packages, ranging from 100 CZK (€3.65 or $4.04) to support the magazine to 60,000 CZK (€2,187 or $2,422) for a lifetime membership. Some packages included gifts, like Reporter T-shirts or signed copies of books, and experiences with Reporter journalists, including history tours, jogging and yoga sessions. The team made a video and got the word out via subscriber newsletters as well as Facebook and Instagram.
Despite having no experience running a crowdfunding campaign, Reporter has raised over €43,000 as of May 21, far surpassing its target of €14,000. A number of crowdfunding packages, including a trip to the pub with one of the editors, sold out. The campaign will end on May 29.
How has COVID-19 changed the future of Reporter Magazin?
Reporter Magazin has projected a €180,000 to €200,000 hole in this year’s revenues due to the advertising losses sustained so far. April’s edition suffered a 40% drop in advertising compared to the April 2019 issue and May’s magazine is expected to be worse, with a 55% decrease in ad revenue versus last year.
The good news is that Reporter has also acquired 400 new subscribers paying the full yearly price. This number is on top of the 1,200 1 CZK subscribers and those who signed up to Reporter Premium via the crowdfunding campaign.
To turn new lockdown subscribers into full-price regular subscribers, the magazine will create several email campaigns outlining different subscription options, including the newly available Reporter Premium. The plan is to convert all 1,200 lockdown subscribers into full subscribers over the next few months.
Despite the crowdfunding campaign and new subscribers, the team may need to make up the difference by making cuts or looking for grants and donations from foundations.
What have they learned so far?
“From the 2008 financial crisis, we learned that it is best not to wait and see, but instead to act early. We were pleasantly surprised by how much money our crowdfunding campaign raised. We had the impression our readers liked our magazine before the pandemic, but we didn’t know how much they cared. Despite a jump in subscriptions since COVID-19, the economic impact is still going to be tough to endure. While I’m not sure if we’ll survive this, I’m hopeful because we have our readers behind us.”
– Michal Musil, Senior Editor, Reporter Magazin
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This case study was produced with support from Evens Foundation. It was originally published by the European Journalism Centre on Medium and is published here under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license. The Poynter Institute is also the fiscal sponsor of the Verification Handbook.