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Google News Initiative

Daily Maverick turns data into revenue

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An independent voice in South African journalism

Daily Maverick has earned a reputation as one of the most fiercely independent publishers in South Africa. Since its founding in 2009, the online publisher has broken some of the biggest investigative stories in the country’s recent history.

Today Daily Maverick’s staunch commitment to independent public service journalism is supported by a hybrid revenue model that relies on funding from philanthropic grants, advertising, and reader support, which includes a membership program.

But stability was hard won. Founders Branko Brkic and Styli Charalambous insisted the site remain free, knowing a paywall would price out much of their audience. They settled on the hybrid model, with memberships a key support. To make it work, Charalambous knew they had to get more from their data.

A unified view of the reader

Like many small and medium-sized publishers, Daily Maverick had access to a lot of information about how readers interacted with its site — where they came from, what they clicked on, and where they spent more or less time.

“We had all these different systems, from newsletters to the website, that were pushing out news and information to readers,” says Charalambous, who serves as CEO and publisher, “but the data from those systems was stuck in different silos.”

With support from a 2020 Google News Initiative (GNI) Innovation Challenge grant, Daily Maverick created RevEngine, a software platform that brings key data from disparate systems — like email service providers, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, content management systems (CMS), and browsing activities — into one central data repository, creating a unified view of the reader.

“We get a better understanding of our most engaged readers and better serve them by putting the right content in front of them, whether that's a news article, newsletter, or membership information,” says Charalambous.

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Audience members at Daily Maverick's 2018 launch of the Maverick Insider membership program.

RevEngine has played a key role in sustaining Daily Maverick’s business model by allowing the newspaper to identify readers who are likely to subscribe to newsletters or join Maverick Insider, a paid membership program that grants readers access to ad-free articles and other perks.

“Our readership exploded during COVID,” says Charalambous. ”RevEngine allows us to take advantage of the data generated by those readers, drive insights into individual user engagement, and measure the likelihood of readers becoming paying members.”

“That we’re now able to get a third of our revenue from our readers has been life-changing for us. It allows us to keep content free to readers, without a paywall, so that anyone can access our reporting.”
Styli Charalambous,
Co-founder and CEO, Daily Maverick
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Relevance turns readers into members

Harnessing reader data through RevEngine helped Daily Maverick grow the membership program by 110 percent in 2020 alone. By November 2021, Maverick Insider boasted more than 17,000 members, firmly establishing reader revenue as the third pillar of the publication’s business model, along with grants and ads.

“That we’re now able to get a third of our revenue from our readers has been life-changing for us,” Charalambous says. “It allows us to keep content free to readers, without a paywall, so that anyone can access our reporting.”

Once readers join the membership program, RevEngine’s dashboards and automated reports track parameters like growth and churn.

On the newsroom side, editorial section heads get daily reports on the performance of articles, tags, and newsletters, so they can make more informed decisions. The platform also alerts editors to renewed reader interest in previously published articles, so they can be resurfaced on the homepage. Daily Maverick sees more return on its reporting, while readers get more relevant journalism. That has led to a doubling of the number of highly engaged readers — those who visit the site more than 15 times each month.

  • 110% increase in members in 2020
  • 2X number of highly engaged readers
  • $50K savings vs. third-party software

Looking forward, Daily Maverick has undertaken a strategic transformation project in which RevEngine will play a major role.

“It starts with understanding how our journalistic mission overlaps with audience needs, and building on that foundation to set future business and editorial goals,” says Charalambous. “The centralized data provided by RevEngine will help us measure our progress towards those goals. We’re basing a huge chunk of our future on this project.”

Styli Charalambous, CEO of Daily Maverick, speaking at Defend Truth conference