Last week, BuzzFeed unveiled plans to launch a feature at the bottom of the site’s news page that asks readers to “help us report to you” by donating $5 to $100.
With Google and Facebook dominating the digital advertising marketplace, many news sites have struggled to secure advertising necessary to cover their business expenses. In 2016, UK-based publication The Guardian made its first appeals to readers in hopes of securing more donations.
“The Guardian is editorially independent – our journalism is free from the influence of billionaire owners or politicians,” reads a message posted on the bottom on the site. “No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. And unlike many others, we haven’t put up a paywall as we want to keep out journalism open and accessible. But the revenue we get from advertising is falling, so we increasingly need our readers to fund our independent investigative reporting.”
By the end of that year, Katharine Viner, Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian, reported that “the number of readers who support us regularly has more than doubled, and we now receive more income from our readers than we do from advertisers. This is a significant step,” she said. In total, The Guardian raised $130 million from reader revenues from April 2016 to March 2017.
Part of the reason The Guardian was successful in securing reader donations was largely due to reader’s brand loyalty, which has been fostered since the publication was founded in 1821. BuzzFeed, on the other hand, was founded in 2006 and became well-known because of quizzes and other content that was mainly shared on Facebook. It wasn’t until 2011 that the company launched BuzzFeed News.
It is unclear whether or not BuzzFeed’s news division has fostered a level of brand loyalty comparable to The Guardian over the course of the past eight years. Unlike The Guardian, in exchange for donations, BuzzFeed announced that “Contributors will get timely updates on big investigations and new programming from BuzzFeed News,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Like this move a lot. The Buzzfeed brand has a strong affinity where a donation possibly to membership model can work long-term. Guardian has paved the way a bit here. Smart, @mattmittenthal @BuzzFeedBen https://t.co/T01btx2OF2
— Jason Kint (@jason_kint) August 27, 2018
Like The Guardian, BuzzFeed vowed to continue to provide content free of charge to readers. If they are successful in securing donations, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed noted that it could lead to a membership program with added perks.
I think BuzzFeed News is a wonderful thing and I want it to succeed. But I suspect a donation pitch will be hard for a for-profit company valued at $1.7 billion to pull off https://t.co/SqjHpvL3B3
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) August 27, 2018