Credit: Screenshot of El Español

El Español surprised many in the Spanish media industry last year, when the digital-only news outlet raised €3.6 (£2.85) million through crowdfunding and gathered 10,000 paying subscribers before it had even fully launched its digital presence - which followed in October 2015.

Work on the project, initiated by Pedro J. Ramírez, who also founded Spain's daily newspaper El Mundo, and his daughter María Ramírez, started in January 2015.

Throughout the summer of 2015, stories were published on a WordPress blog before the website, smartphone and tablet app eventually came together seven months ago.

Co-founder María Ramírez told Journalism.co.uk El Español launched with the aim of adopting a "more aggressive" approach to investigative journalism, independent of Spanish companies and political parties.

The outlet also wanted to prove longer and more complex stories that take time and resources to produce can work on mobile too, an uncommon belief in Spanish media at the time.

People in Spain are not used to paying for news, especially online, and those who are subscribing are doing so because they associate it with belonging to a communityMaría Ramírez, El Español

"From a technical point of view, we wanted to be innovative – use more tools, do more data journalism, experiment with 360-degree video, which we first did in June 2015.

"So even if now you can see these formats in other Spanish outlets, last year we were doing things that you couldn't find anywhere else [in Spain]."

While politics has been "a main focus" for the type of journalism El Español does, considering the title was born in the midst of election season, Ramírez said there was an initial debate before they agreed on reporting about culture, sport, social issues and not just politics.

Between 10 January 2015 and 31 December 2015, El Español's 50 most read articles were a mix of investigations, scoops and 13 data-centric stories which included text and data visualisations.

Some 65 journalists work in El Español's newsroom based in Madrid, with a few others based in Barcelona and Brussels, and around ten regular contributors spread across Spain's main cities.

Non-subscribers to El Español can read 25 articles per month and receive the daily morning newsletter called El Despertador. A subscription costs €84 (£66.49) a year, or €10.99 (£8.7) a month and gives paying readers access to exclusives and scoops published across the website and the apps.

Most people have taken out year-long subscriptions since the beginning, said Ramírez. These are due for renewal in October 2016, so the team is toying with different ideas to keep its paying readers interested, such as launching a new product closer to the time or revamping El Español's subscriber-only product, La Edición.

La Edición can be accessed through a portal on the website and has the format of a digital newspaper designed primarily with mobile in mind. It gives subscribers early access to exclusive stories summarised at 10pm before they become available in full to all readers the following day.

However, Ramírez said the number of subscribers has not increased much since the launch – the outlet currently counts "around 12,000" paying readers.

"Part of the reason is that people in Spain are not used to paying for news, especially online, and those who are subscribing are doing so because they associate it with belonging to a community, which is the main reason why they subscribed in the beginning.

"I think it's not that easy to pursue both high traffic and subscriptions."

Traffic to elespanol.com has been about three times higher than the team anticipated, she added, with 80 per cent of visits coming from mobile browsers and tablets.

One of the things we are proud of at El Español is that our arrival really moved other newspapersMaría Ramírez, El Español

Readers' behaviour is monitored using Google Analytics, but El Español is developing its own analytics tool to track more specific metrics, such as a person's exact journey on the site from the moment they arrive, or more data on how people interact with La Edición.

El Español's revenue is mainly derived from advertising, a combination of display and native. Display is very limited, explained Ramírez, because of how intrusive it tends to be on mobile – "we don't do anything that pops up and covers the screen".

The organisation is also hoping to find new avenues for monetisation through Instant Articles, a platform it is in the process of joining, and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages.

El Español has and continues to look up to and draw inspiration from outlets such as Quartz, Vox, NPR and The New York Times, explained Ramírez, but also from Spanish media.

"We look at El Confidencial and also eldiario.es because the latter has a similar model to ours that is built around a community and it has done a very good job with subscriptions.

"From the legacy newspapers, the most interesting now is El País because of how they are trying to change the dynamics of their newsroom and invest more in mobile.

"One of the things we are proud of at El Español is that our arrival really moved other newspapers. At the beginning they were scared that we were going to change the media landscape, but because we arrived, they started doing more innovative things and I think that's good for everybody," said Ramírez.

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