French aggregation startup Youmag is seeking to integrate free and paid digital news content in a made-to-measure, virtual magazine format.
Co-founders Antoine Levêque, Nicolas Schaettel and Guillaume Multrier have recently unveiled versions for the web and Android, and Youmag’s free iPhone and iPad apps, launched this past June, were downloaded over 100,000 times in two months.
The concept is simple: personalised aggregation + curation and editorial intervention by a small team of journalists + a freemium model akin to that of music streaming platform Spotify = ideally, a successful company that generates 2/3 of its revenue from advertising, and 1/3 from happy readers inclined to pay for premium content (thereby making publishers happy, too).
Personalised, nuanced aggregation
Let’s say that you are the user. After logging in for the first time, you are invited to select the sections of your magazine from a carousel of themes and sub-themes.
“What really distinguishes us is the thematic approach,” Levêque told me in a phone interview last week. The selection of sub-themes is diverse and nuanced as possible "to be as relevant as possible for users," elaborated Schaettel in a subsequent conversation.
Under the "Internet Technology" theme, for example, you will find subheadings for "Tim Cook," "E-security" and "Cloud computing;" under “Gastronomy,” there is a no-doubt meaty vertical entitled “hamburger or nothing.”
“We propose these broad categories to allow users to choose the subjects that interest them, and then our journalists, for each theme, determine which are the 25 most prominent subjects that are trending right now,” Schaettel continued.
Curation and editorial intervention
This brings us to another key aspect of Youmag’s strategy thus far: “We have chosen," Schaettel explained, "to invest in journalists. So we have a team of ten people who make summaries, take some distance, and write news reviews.”
Clicking on one of your chosen verticals will take you to a visual listing of articles that have been aggregated from 5,000 sources, and then curated and summed up in short paragraphs by Youmag's journalists.
“We are trying to get out of this hyper-chronological notion of the news,” said Levêque. The Youmag approach, he explained, is not about offering minute-by-minute updates and alerts, but rather about finding the most pertinent and interesting articles, and those that will stay relevant for longer. “We’ll wait four hours to give us time to do some curation, to find the good content,” he continued, “to stand back and analyse the situation.”
If the article appeals to you in its digested format, you can click on a link that takes you to the original source.
A freemium model
Here, it gets interesting: sometimes, access to that original source will cost you.
As Youmag announced during a press conference in Paris last week, it will soon be unrolling a way for users to pay for access to single articles (at an average price of 0.20 Euros each). In the medium term this will also encompass individual editions of newspapers and magazines, and, eventually, subscriptions.
For now, Youmag has three paid partner publications: Stratégies, Satellifax and Gala. (It is negotiating revenue shares with publishers on a case-by-case basis.)
Schaettel explained that he and his co-founders are reaching for a “synthesis between the world of free content and the world of paid content.” He wants users to, when a subject interests them, be presented with the best of both the free and paid content on that subject.
“Effectively, we think that today in the press the two worlds are separate, and it is by bringing together these two worlds that we can get the sale of content to take off,” he said.
So how do you convince people to pay for the news?
“The one million dollar question,” Schaettel laughs, before sketching a four-tiered strategy:
“First, the paid content has to be easily accessible. In our opinion, it has to be distributed as widely as possible,” he said.
“The second element, I think, is that it has to be in context. If you are interested by Barack Obama and we offer you content on François Hollande, maybe it will interest you, but probably less than an article about Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, or even Mitt Romney,” he added.
“The third element is that paid content has to stand out. It has to be made clear why the paid content is worth more than the free content, and why the act of payment is justified.”
“And the fourth element, of course, is that it has to be easy to buy,” he concluded.
The goal is that Youmag will, by fetching exactly the kind of news that you are interested in, and placing all of it - free and otherwise - beneath your nose in a harmonious, well-curated way, encourage you to appreciate, and reach into your pocket to benefit from, the paid content's worth.
This would not only make the start-up a success, but would “allow publishers to at once broaden their audience and bring in revenue,” said Schaettel.
“You are given both free and paid content, and you choose the best of both worlds.”
Here is a quirky, franglais animation explaining the role of Youmag: