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Jeff Israely knows the news business, perhaps too well. As the founder of Worldcrunch.com and a former bureau chief for Time magazine, he has felt the pain of old publishing models firsthand. When he was “downsized” as part of Time’s elimination of its permanent European editorial staff, Israely did what any good reporter would. He investigated. But this time, he was covering the story of his own industry and pursuing an idea for a news startup he’d been pondering.
Chronicling his thoughts about a potentially viable news startup for Nieman Journalism Lab, he followed leads in search of a viable future for high quality news publishing. Out of his story and unique angle Worldcrunch was born.
“Worldcrunch is based on a publishing idea that had been successful in Europe for 20 years”, says Israely. “This original concept took syndicated editorial content from a wide array of the world’s best newspapers regardless of language and then translated for a single national or linguistic audience, notably for a French weekly called Courier Internationnal and others in Italy, Poland, Japan and elsewhere. Worldcrunch believed the same model could work if they translated foreign language papers into English and published online. Israely and his partner, Irene Toporkoff, assembled an all-star advisory board, raised angel financing and launched the company.
The first problem to solve was sourcing editorial content. Israely’s pitch to publishers was simple. In exchange for translating their stories, Worldcrunch would be allowed to publish those stories on their site and then share revenues with the partner for syndicated sales of the translated product. The fascinating implication of this model is that it creates an entirely new set of products throughout the content value chain. Says Israely, “We might choose a story from an Italian paper, add an editorial and translation filter and the New York Times syndication service will sell that to an Indonesian paper whose readers all speak English, but not Italian”. To use the most obvious of puns, Worldcrunch takes advantage of the fact that English has become the lingua franca of the Internet.
By translating stories from 25 publications ranging from Le Monde to Die Welt and newspapers in China, Russia and Brazil, Worldcrunch has managed to aggregate high-quality editorial from many angles while adding otherwise inaccessible local perspectives. A case in point is Syria, with a consortium of six French-language news agencies providing high-quality, regional coverage that is only available in English via Worldcrunch.
Getting the model right demands balancing staff-size with product demands. Today, Worldcrunch’s four Paris-based staffers coordinate a team of 15 freelancers around the world to handle translation. The result is five to six “Premium Stories” per day and the same number of “Crunch-It” aggregated articles. Premium Stories tend to be longer articles, op-ed and reportage. The site also publishes in-depth coverage of major events like the recent selection of the new Pope.
Worldcrunch’s growth has been steady over the past 12 months, rising from 150K readers a month to 250K. Israely attributes much of his inspiration to “The Newsonomics of Small Things”, an article by Ken Doctor of the Nieman Lab that argued that publishers would need to move away from simply advertising and circulation and find lots of “golden eggs”, his name for small but valuable revenue streams, like in-sourcing, events and custom publishing.
Paid subscriptions also figure strongly into Worldcrunch’s plans. “Our revenue will come from a variety of sources including ads, consumer subscriptions and B2B and institutional subscribers”, says Israely. “Tinypass was a perfect fit for us because the technology worked for today’s paid content models and their corporate philosophy matched ours”.
Israely admits that running a paid news site presents inherent challenges. “We have to make smart choices about what we cover and translate. We’ve also discovered that Google’s algorithm favors “outlinks” – our goal is to keep readers on site but that lowers our ranking in their index”. The company feels strongly that the path to success will come from creating a unique product with value. “We’re convinced that if you make something people love, they are happy to pay for it”.
We take our hats off to Jeff and his fellow pioneers at Worldcrunch and hope you’ll join us in supporting them and reading the best writing from the world’s best papers, all in one place.