Friday, December 10, 2010

India Needs a Sharp News Curating outfit: But, HuffPo is not the right model

Nikhil Pahwa, who runs one of the few successful niche blogs in India (Medianama), writes a post titled ' Someone Needed To Set Up An Indian HuffPo Seven Months Ago'. His context: the failings of mainstream media vis-a-vis the Barkha Dutt/Vir Sanghvi/Others mess. Nikhil writes:
The space is wide open for someone to become a destination – smart curation, commentary, debates, co-opting conversations taking place on the web, linking out to great content and conversations, and putting the RTI to good use.

The idea is a good one. It is not a new idea. Sites like Desipundit, Blogbharti and some others have tried to curate the Indian media in the past. Sadly, they haven't gotten far. Shivam Vij at Kafila does a good job at curating alternative voices but that is not 'scalable' from a business point of view.

The Ideal News curating Outfit isn't out there. Even HuffPost is the wrong model for other startups to follow. Mainly because few can match the media savviness of Ariana Huffington.

1. Ariana got celebrities, famous columnists to write for HuffPost. For free.
Can we do the same? Big names get the traffic. HuffPost had a big advantage with this trick when it started out. With her media contacts, Ariana also got the coverage.

2. Even now, HuffPost is accused of going over 'fair use' norms when it aggregates links, often pasting the bulk of the 'good stuff' in blockquotes.
Will the likes of TOI, HT, IBN7, NDTV etc., who are fiercely competitive players, allow this to happen on a regular basis?

3. HuffPost has tons of funding.
It is very hard to get funding for editorial startups in India. I have tried doing that for Bighow. Instablogs, the citizen-journalism startup where I served as a managing editor, got Rs. 18 crore recently, but not for reporting. It got the money from Times Internet for marketing/licensing its blogging platform.

I am not surprised that only serious online news players in India are the Portals: Rediff, Yahoo and Aol.

So, what is the way out?
The good old Indian jugaad. Pay 10-15 editors Rs. 10,000-15000/pm, who shall work part-time, 3-4 hours/daily, who will do all the stuff that Nikhil pointed out above, and some. It all comes to Rs. 2 million/year. And then add an economic component, like a curated daily deals section. And things like that. In 3 years, I am sure it will make a profit.

All this needs some fine-tuning, sure, but we have to find a way out. With a 3 year running cost of Rs. 10 million ($2.5 million approximately), I know this is not the typical high-ticket deal for the normal VC.

The ideal Indian news startup is waiting (& praying) for an 'idealist' investor.

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At 12:05 AM , Anonymous Nikhil Pahwa said...

Hi Pramit, a couple of things:

- The HuffPo & DailyBeast mention was just an analogy. They are highly successful political blogs that do provide value to their readers. This is not a ratification of what HuffPo does in the name of aggreation.

- DesiPundit and BlogBharti were curation only. In my opinion, smart curation is just one piece of the puzzle. By itself it will have limited reach. DesiPundit could have been scaled, but imo, there needs to be a business focus as well.

- The celebrities idea is a means to an end - it attracts audiences, and builds discussion. Reduces marketing costs

- The jugaad isn't the best way to go, unless you can ensure that the content will be of high quality.

- 10-15 editors is just too many to begin with. Rather have 4 good editors than 15 average.

At 4:32 PM , Blogger Pramit Singh said...

Good points, Nikhil.

I think we have to go after 6-7 Niches to really make it a go. One reason why I am not going to focus on just a couple of niches because mentionable content in the Indian space is really, really thin. Other than in the media (such as your excellent blog), politics and may be entertainment (much to be done in this category), you will find not much good stuff on a daily basis.

That is why I want 15 editors who will do more than curating - do some great roundup, trends, and interview pieces in the niche to build an audience. That is what i meant by 'Jugaad'. My two paisa on the matter.


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