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How reader funding is helping save independent media across the world

A number of small independent media startups all over the world are staging a fightback. And in many cases, the thing that keeps them going is the generosity of readers.

For example, when Siddharth Varadarajan’s news website The Wire was hit with a lawsuit, it should have been a disaster. The Delhi-based editor knew things were financially delicate for the startup he had part-funded.

“People were so outraged……they started to send in money,” says Varadarajan. “It was astonishing.”

It was a turning point. The Wire quickly cast around for ways to solidify this support. It found inspiration in the Guardian’s own scheme – and its own members. The website is now setting up membership programmes based on the Guardian model.

“We’ve really looked to the Guardian for some of this,” says Varadarajan. Reader revenue made up 20% of the Wire’s income last year but will make up more than 40% this year.

They are not alone. From Venezuela to Poland and from Hong Kong to Hungary, editors determined to break out of the tight stranglehold imposed by regimes, oligarchs and the even more brutal depradations of media market economics are finding support where they never thought it existed.

The Membership Puzzle runs a database of media organisations experimenting with reader revenue models and, according to research director Emily Goligoski, the list expands weekly. “The level of experimentation is so impressive; it’s really exciting to see sites around the world setting up and really succeeding.”

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