Denník N, one of Slovakia’s top digital media, is on a roll. After several years as a poster-child for paywalls, it’s recently announced annual results showed profits more than doubling. 

Head of Digital Tomas Bella announced on Linkedin that the company’s EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization – a widely used proxy for operating profits) jumped to 831,000 EUR in 2019 from 343,000 EUR in 2018.

“You know how some publishers were caught in a vicious circle of “revenues falling –> let’s cut some journalism jobs –> now the revenues are falling faster because there is less quality stuff to read,” Bella wrote.

“Denník N is now caught in this opposite, virtuous cycle: for past 3 years, as soon as our revenues grew, we spent it on new projects, always tried to hire more great journalists (we doubled the newsroom size in last 2 years) and software developers, always launching new products as soon as we could afford them. And the revenues kept growing,” he announced.

Source: Tomas Bella’s LinkedIn page

Denník N wasn’t always pre-destined to succeed. Launched by a team from fellow Slovak publication SME after the latter was bought out by scandal-ridden investment group, Dennik N was essentially bootstrapped with everyone working together in the same room, working together to solve the problems faced by their nascent publication.

Although the team crowdfunded around 250,000 EUR to get off the ground, they knew they needed to monetize quickly and decided a paywall was the right way to go. Denník N was lucky – before co-founding the media, Bella was the co-founder and CEO of Piano Media, a paywall software provider that has grown to be one of the industries top players.

That experience came in handy when Denník N had to build its own infrastructure. The result – called REMP (|Readers’ Engagement and Monetization Platform), is available in open-source for publishers. It quickly allowed them to build a base of paying subscribers to fund further growth.

The model paid off. Denník N had a headcount of 43 at the end of 2015 in its Bratislava office. By 2018, it opened a Prague office to expand to the neighbouring Czech market, with 103 between the two. More importantly, by mid 2019 it counted some 40,000 paying subscribers (update: it’s now at around 47,000).

It grew further in 2019, and is set to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. “We promise to keep investing in more and better journalism in 2020,” noted Bella at the end of his post.