Credit: Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

A France-based startup is looking to level the playing field for news publishers by giving them the tools to compete for online memberships.

‘We write the code, you write the content’, reads the slogan of The Newscene, the latest venture by co-founder Konan Kouassi.

Throughout its beta phase, Kouassi has worked with a number of publishers to rethink their approach to memberships. The Newscene does the technical legwork for publishers and it will be taking on more partners upon its public launch in mid-July.

"It will look a bit more like Patreon," he describes, referring to the membership platform traditionally used by artists.

"You go there and build your community, and eventually you put content behind a paywall that only your community has access to.

"However, Patreon doesn’t have the right features to suit every publisher."

What the Newscene offers is a content management system (CMS) which caters for different publisher needs.

For example, publishers can use the tool to launch a newsletter for its members who can also have access to past issues and magazine content like columns, opinions or articles.

"You create your content and start building your membership as you imagine it."

Rather than having some mixture of WordPress, MailChimp and PayPal for site hosting, sending newsletters and handling payments, The Newscene offers a set of in-house tools in one place, purpose-built for membership.

Publishers can use the platform directly or integrate it onto their website.

"It’s a never-ending project where every innovation that appears, you can add it as a feature. Let's imagine our next step might be TikTok, we can add that feature," he said.

In a series of Medium posts, Kouassi outlineed just what he learned from his past (and now ceased) venture with 'Netflix-for-news' style-platform Jrnal.

Key learning curves include some widely-discussed ideas that traffic-based revenue is not working, paying for news is not (yet) an audience priority, and mid-range brands are really struggling.

The result is that the news industry is seeing a gradual shift towards reader-first revenue models, with community membership focus and an opportunity for newcomers to make real impact.

"I’ve seen how bad publishers are with tech," said Kouassi.

"Those that were good lost their developers to startups. We can help those publishers succeed and be at the forefront of their readers."

"If you want to replicate The New Yorker’s Stories on Instagram, we can tell you which tools you need to use. But the publishers might not have the knowledge or they might have one developer who is part-time, they don’t have time. We can save you the time, we can try to democratise programming for news organisations."

That is, at a 10 per cent cut of subscription revenue and a £1,000 upfront fee, though that is set to be removed upon public launch next month. The ongoing subscription pricing, however, is fully within the publishers control.

But for Kouassi, it is no surprise that news organisations do not seem to be competing with other online platforms.

“Once you go online and into this crowded place where you are competing for online business with Twitch, Spotify, Netflix, you have to fight with the same weapon.

"You have to make sure your business becomes like a product. When someone says Netflix, you know that’s about movies, series and entertainment. When you talk about, say, Glamour, you know it will be about clickbait, but it’s not clear exactly what it's about. It’s time for publishers to build a business around identity."

It is early days and these features still require some fine-tuning. From a robust back-end, only a limited front-end customisation is available for now. Come mid-July and afterwards, there should be more than a 'watch this space' sign.

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