Launched barely a month ago, the new longform website beststory.ca is nothing if not journalistically ambitious.
According to its founder, Warren Perley, the Montreal-based site is unique as a platform for quality, exclusive stories offered to readers on a pay-as-you-go basis. The site carries no advertising, neither does it follow a news agenda; instead freelance journalists contribute the stories they want to write. After extensive editing, the published stories earn them a royalty of 25 per cent.
The project has been in the making three and a half years, and the founders have invested a significant amount of time in developing the proprietary software that makes possible a magazine-style layout with quality pictures appearing perfectly in tablet form.
Perley says that he and his partners have also made a ‘substantial’ financial investment in the business, although he doesn’t want to reveal how much. But the company did, he volunteers, turn down offers of outside investment in order to maintain editorial independence.
The decision was a reflection of the thinking that has underpinned the project since its conception. Now that the advertising model that has sustained journalism for the past hundred years is broken, argues Perley, the task is to re-educate readers about the need to pay for quality writing.
But at 40 cents – US or Canadian, depending on where the reader is – the fee per story is remarkably low. Readers are offered three packages, the lowest a bundle of three stories, and the highest ten dollars’ worth of articles, including some yet-to-be published.
The corollary of such pricing is that the writers’ earnings will be similarly low.
‘We have to keep the price exceptionally modest, because first we have to get readers used to the idea of paying for intellectual content,’ says Perley.
He adds that, once the readership has built up and the site developed a reputation, prices – and therefore royalties – may go up. In the meantime, the priority is to establish a new paradigm for digital publishing in which people are prepared to pay for quality reading matter.
The beststory model, he agrees, combines old-fashioned publishing values with a determination to make digital content pay. In the meantime, it is clearly not going to generate anyone a living wage any time soon.
‘Will it be a financial success?’ asks Perley. ‘We’ll see. I think it could be. But I only know one way to do business, and that means producing quality.’