Although daily Slovakian newspaper Dennik N was only established in 2015, the publisher is already profitable.

After quitting their jobs at Denník SME, one of the most widely read mainstream broadsheets in Slovakia, 45 journalists came together to build this news business by themselves, with only five software developers and no experience working in sales.

"We resigned to protest the takeover of the publisher by a local oligarch," said Tomas Bella, head of online, Dennik N, at the Digital Innovators' Summit in Berlin on 19 March.

"When we started with Dennik N, we told ourselves that we can only do what we know, so we worked solely as journalists, without a sales team, with the knowledge that we could outsource work if we needed to."

To date, 90 per cent of the company is made up of journalists. Even the chief executive writes articles for the organisation, which, as a business, makes revenue solely from online subscriptions costing from €5 per month.

The team decided to write breaking news for traffic and longform articles for subscribers, and avoid writing mid-length articles.

While it has a print edition, 80 per cent of revenue come from online subscriptions, with readers paying mostly for investigative pieces, interviews and in-depth reports.

Before every meeting, each journalist receives an email with the headline of each article on the site and how much it made in revenue for the company.

"Around the room today, I can see a lot of horrified faces, because it is completely breaking the barrier between the business and the editorial teams, but we give this feedback to the reporters every day," he said.

Tomas Bella, head of online, Dennik N in Slovakia, talks to delegates at the DISummit 2018

"Fifty per cent of the company is owned by the reporters, so it's in their interest as it is their money – they are all shareholders in the paper, and are able decide what they want to write about."

Page views are ignored at the company – the only interest is in the conversion, how many people are willing to pay for the articles. Top articles have ranged from why being cold is good for you and the state of manufacturing in China.

"There is a strong correlation in what people are willing to pay for, and what we ourselves consider quality journalism – we are proud of that," he said, explaining that over the years the number of articles written has declined but the average length of articles has gone up.

"This is not about just creating revenue, this is about the correlation between the subscriptions and what we consider quality value for the readers."

Each month the publisher runs a crowdfunding project, where it tests readers on what they want the publisher to do.

"We wanted to put together a magazine to teach high school teachers how to protect, and teach kids to defend themselves against fake news – we got more than €40,000. We now have a Facebook group for this and have gone on to produce three more publications," he said.

"People wouldn't buy this on a news stand, but people believe it's an important topic that kids should know about – so they are willing to buy it for someone else."

The staff of Dennik N are creating open source software to help other publishers achieve similar success. Thanks to a grant from the Google Digital News Initiative, they have been able to produce free and open source software so other publishers are able to use it for their own site improvements, whether that is with on-site marketing, email marketing or monetisation-focused analytics.

"We are in the process of developing software that is measuring where audiences can read up to in any particular article for free – we are still deciding where to put the cut," he said.

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