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Back Story: Kyiv Post remains best bargain

Feb. 7, 2013, 11:13 p.m. | Michael Willard


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I dislike the term “pay wall.” It sounds negative, sort of like a big fence has been thrown up to separate the reader from the more enterprising content on the Kyiv Post website.

So, let’s put a positive spin on it and call it a revenue enhancement measure to ensure the survival of our nearly 20-year-old newspaper. Let’s call it a way to keep the very best journalists and editors on staff, churning out thoughtful and enterprising stories. 

Let’s call it a way to ensure vigorous independent journalism in English. If there were no Kyiv Post, the giant sucking sound you would hear would be the last vestige of a truly independent press being squeezed from Ukraine due to a lack of operating funds. 

 Let’s call it a bargain.  

At Hr 40 a month for an annual subscription, there is no better value around. If you already subscribe to the Kyiv Post print edition, there will be no charge to access the website. Plus, the first 500 who sign up for an annual online subscription to the newspaper will receive it for Hr 30 per month (an Hr 120 savings). Otherwise, purchased by the month it is Hr 72. 

The launch date for paid content is March 1. 

 Having studied the arguments for and against paid content for many months, I believe the Kyiv Post fits into a unique pattern of publications that can succeed charging for online content: 

The Kyiv Post has a unique, niche position in the community. It dominates the market with a news vehicle that is not controlled by political interests. In terms of a “free press,” the English-language Kyiv Post comes close to having a monopoly. 

Around 70 percent of our online readership comes from outside Ukraine, where people can’t merely run down to O’Brien’s Irish Pub and pick up a free copy. Faraway readers represent financial institutions, governments, educational facilities and Ukraine’s diaspora. 

We have a great product, and we are truly “the world’s window on Ukraine.”  No other English-language news source consistently, day-in and day-out, covers Ukraine like the Kyiv Post. 

If one were to use the term “pay wall,” the technical description of the Kyiv Post’s version would be a “soft” one. While content generated by veteran journalists and editors carries a small cost, wire service stories, other commentaries and features and opinion content will continue to be free. 

In my journalistic, political and business life over nearly five decades, I have faced many challenges, though I don’t think any as great as attempting to turn around a newspaper in a worldwide atmosphere where few such publications make money and fewer still make money off traditional advertising. 

During a budget meeting recently at ISTIL Group, our holding company, I presented the past and what I thought the near future would hold for the newspaper. In my 18 months, we have increased revenue by 75 percent and decreased expenses by 35 percent. 

We have initiated a highly successful – judging by our recent Tiger Conference — Kyiv Post Conferences program. We instituted a corporate subscription program, and launched Kyiv Post Editorial Services in an effort to bring more revenue. The sales and marketing team has been totally revamped. 

In other words, instead of losing about $1 million (as the Kyiv Post did in 2011), we cut losses to $300,000 in 2012. It was a sizable improvement, but, as the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. 

Our patient backer, publisher Mohammad Zahoor, rightly feels that he has done enough. He has multiple businesses to watch over. His hope from the beginning was that the community would step to the forefront and support “its” newspaper. 

In some ways, it has. The community responded to the Tiger Conference by coming forth with nearly $100,000 in sponsorships in a relatively short time. Some companies, like Danone, came forth with a year-long advertising program, helping whittle down the deficit. 

For the past two years, the European Business Association – made up of some 900 members — has purchased a page to voice its opinions and promote its programs and achievements.  The firm that bears my name, Willard, has purchased a full page ad per month for the next year. 

But, we’re not there yet. And the clock is ticking. 

Kyiv Post CEO Michael Willard can be reached at willard@kyivpost.com.