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The name of one of Spain’s notable survival stories in public-service journalism–infoLibre–contains the essence of its guiding principle. It literally means “free information”–that is, free of undue influence from political and business interests.
In his annual public letter, Jesús Maraña, editorial director, attributed the publication’s financial achievements in 2020 to this “radical independence” that focuses on public-service journalism.
This year infoLibre is looking to end their string of losses, totaling 1.89 million euros over its first eight years ($US 2.4 million). They announced the hiring of a veteran sales director in January, and Maraña has predicted this will be their first year in the black.
In 2020, the company lost 151,000 euros on revenues of 1.37 million, largely due to a significant increase in spending on staff and investments in technology. They now have 24 employees, 20 of them journalists.
Innovative capital structure
At first glance, infoLibre’s capital structure looks something like a high-risk investment, with its focus on revenue growth and steady losses. One might conclude that its celebrity investors are either patiently awaiting a big return or–more likely–they support Maraña in his goal of transforming the news industry from its profit-driven model to one of independent public-service journalism that informs the electorate. Maraña was a well known journalist in Spain when he and other media veterans launched infoLibre.
Investments from 178 shareholders in the company’s Partnership of Friends of infoLibre have helped cover losses. The minimum investment is 400 euros.
Also, since 2015, the company has been using a long-term loan of 235,000 euros from the government-run Sociedad Nacional de Innovación S.A. (National Innovation Administration, resembling the US Small Business Administration). They borrowed an additonal 68,000 in 2020.
A summary of infoLibre’s financial and audience results in 2020:
- Paid subscribers increased 44% to13,500, accounting for 55% of revenues
- Advertising increased 18.8% to 528,000 euros
- Overall revenues of 1.37 million euros represented an increase of 32%
- Spending on personnel increased 35% to 1.1 million euros, with two director positions added
- Average monthly unique users increased 94% to 1.9 million, as audited by the OJD (Oficina de Justificación de la Difusión)
The publication has also attracted 359,000 followers on Facebook, 324,000 on Twitter, 56,500 on Instagram, and 5,000 on Telegram.
Three years of net revenues in euros for, from left, sales of the print magazine tintaLibre, subscription revenue (socios), and advertising sales (publicidad).
Although infoLibre increased spending on personnel in 2020, its increased revenues limited the loss to essentially the same as 2019. The publication added two members to the leadership team–Daniel Basteiro as director and Evangelina Casullo as chief digital officer, both of whom have extensive experience in digital and traditional news media.
Longtime editor Manuel Rico was promoted to director of investigations, emphasizing the focus on breaking impact stories. infoLibre shares its investigative content with a host of other publications that are part of the European Investigative Collaborations network, including Der Spiegel, Le Soir, Expresso, Politiken and Mediapart, among others. It also has a content-sharing partnership with elDiario.es.
InfoLibre also has begun an extensive upgrade in technology. In exchange for a 10% share of infoLibre stock, elDiario.es will supply its content managment (CMS) and customer relations management (CRM) systems and other technical support.
InfoLibre has a type of freemium subscription model, with some content available only to subscribers. There are three levels of subscription: 40€ ($47 US) annually to receive only the monthly print magazine home-delivered, 55€ to gain access to all digital content, and 75€ for all digital content plus the monthly magazine. Young people, the unemployed, and the disabled can receive a discount on the whole package for 60€.
Maraña emphasized the importance of continued subscription growth as the key to infoLibre’s model. “We were committed from day one to build this project on the basis of a pact between journalists and readers with the aim of guaranteeing radical independence (not impartiality or neutrality) and the exercise of honest and trustworthy journalism.”
For that reason, he wrote in his anniversary message, infoLibre “has resigned from participating in the so-called click war” and “does not accept misleading or offensive advertising”.
Other independent media startups
InfoLibre’s story brings to mind the successes of other European media that focus on public service to their communities, accountability journalism, and a digital first philosophy. Here are profiles of some of them: Il Post of Italy, elDiario.es of Spain, Talking Points Memo in the US, Krautreporter in Germany, Mediapart of France, and De Correspondent in Holland.
More from The Fix: In France, an investigative journalism startup beats the odds