Malaysiakini: Free or pay?

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Malaysiakini has received numerous e-mails in reaction to the letter Malaysiakini should be free to all written by ‘A Malaysiakini Fan’. Below is a selection of their responses.

Thai Eng Lang:

Firstly, allow me to thank Malaysiakini and all its dedicated staff for just being around and providing us with alternative news. Your staff are obviously doing their national service to the king and nation and rakyat. Malaysiakini has contributed much to the recent change in democracy in this nation of ours.

Should Malaysiakini be free for all? I say ‘no’. It should continue as it is, at least for the present, supported by those who believe that the truth is out there. If any group should be considered for free subscriptions it is those older than Malaysia with no independent incomes. These Warga Mas have contributed much to the nation already

James Tan: I will strongly tell you my firm view that Malaysiakini should remain a subscription service. I say this as a non-subscriber. I have benefitted immensely from Malaysiakini 's reporting and free access.

Servers cost money especially expanding server capacities to cope with this great traffic upsurge. Your reporters need salaries like any other profession. It is deserved and earned, not charity. Bandwidth expansion, mirror sites all cost money

Being subscription-based is your business model. You bore the cost of launching Malaysiakini , with a low base readership revenue. You deserve the success of your business model now.

Jon:

I do support the suggestion that Malaysiakini should be made free to anyone. We have seen the lapdog mentality of the mainstream media especially TV3, Utusan , NST and The Star .

We are hungry and desperate for timely news which Malaysiakini provides. Malaysia Today is good for editorial write-ups and readers' comments, but it is not 'spot on' on breaking news! Din's Reluctant Blogger is a good site for antologies. Both do serve their purpose, though.

Go get some funds from benevolent parties to fund Malaysiakini including banner advertising. Jeff Ooi and Tony Pua should be able to help out on revenue sources other than getting subscription fees.

Malaysiakini is a great equaliser and provides balanced reporting of what actually take place without the political posturing and overtures. Shame on mainstream media. You misreport and disinform without moral conscience!

Please do accede to our request on dropping subscription charges so that Malaysiakini will become the media of choice!

Chong Yu-nam:

Congratulations and in IT business terms, your surge in traffic is a good problem to solve. As I have written before, I started with the RM15 monthly package to get coverage of the GE2008 and I was not disappointed. With the growing discontent over biased news coverage in NST and The Star, I expect subscriptions to Malaysiakini to increase.

Don't you think it's time to make Malaysiakini a public-listed company? I am willing to bet you guys make it big from now till the next GE. I do hope you guys solve your network issues soon so that you can accommodate more capacity.

Fairplay:

I subscribed to Malaysiakini exactly after it has stopped providing free access recently. They have done a good job in providing un-biased reporting and we should be grateful that we have another source of information.

They rightfully deserve to be paid for doing their job and we should never take advantage of that. It is a tough job for the journalists, having to work the hours to bring you the news and these people has great passion in what they are doing.

I think people should stop having this ‘freebie’ mentality and learn to be more generous in giving. It is not good to always take from others, sometimes you need to give in order to receive more.

Virtualmystic:

As much as I wish to see a free and balanced media for all the people of Malaysia, I have to disagree making Malaysiakini free for all. The proposal of taking advantage of traffic to earn all revenue from advertising may look sound initially. But if Malaysiakini were to go down this road, it, like any other mainstream media, it could easily be put out of business by an ‘interested’ party.

How? If orchestrated properly, Malaysiakini could unknowingly be funded by advertisements coming from only one source. Should this source one day decide to withdraw its advertisements at the appropriate time, Malaysiakini , its staff and its contributers will be left high and dry.

I would rather see it draw revenue from a paying public interested in a more balanced view. After all RM150/year, equates to RM12 a month. This is still much cheaper than buying into the biased view of mainstream media dailies at the cost of RM1.20 a day.

As for competition, I say all the better. Those who cannot afford the RM15 monthly subscription could and should have an alternative and decide if what they read is biased or not. There are, after all, enough bloggers to disseminate what is written in Malaysiakini and other sites to all who care to look for the information.

Lim:

I really supported for Malaysiakini to be made free. Earlier, I had requested that Malaysiakini to be open up after March 14.

Jeff Balan:

It is touching to read the comments with regards to your online newspaper. Whilst I highly admire your newspaper, I wouldn't go as far as some to say that the BN was defeated because of the Internet.

But I would admit that the Internet (and Malaysiakini ) certainly played a crucial part. My personal feeling is that it was the BN itself that caused itself to implode and self-destruct with its failed policies and empty promises.

Regarding being free for all, I don't think so. Malaysiakini at RM15 a month is a good deal for most people. I think it is the least that readers can do to help pay the salaries of your dedicated and bold journalists and writers.

However, the only people that I think that Malaysiakini should consider giving free subscriptions to is to the handicapped and elderly Malaysians because these special groups usually have either reduced or no income at all. They should be allowed to qualify for complimentary subscriptions by producing their special cards.

Garry Khoo:

Every business must have revenue including those related to religion and culture such as mosque, temple or charity organisations. Without revenue means without quality. Malaysiakini , please think twice before you open up for free.

Premesh Chandran:

I refer to the letter Malaysiakini should be free to all . I believe it deserves a reply from Malaysiakini ’s management and so here it is.

Firstly, thanks very much for voicing on an issue which I am sure is being well-debated privately and in cyberspace. And of course, no offence is taken. At Malaysiakini , we strongly believe in having constructive debates and independent voices.

For a start, let’s think about what would happen if Malaysiakini indeed went free. When Malaysiakini was free for a week, we received quite a few complaints from subscribers, especially since the increase in readership caused an overload on our servers, denying many access.

I believe that should Malaysiakini go free, there would be an outcry from our paying subscribers. A refund would cost Malaysiakini about RM2 million, not including the workload involved in executing the refund. The enormous task would also generate tremendous loss of credibility. If alternative revenue strategies fail, it would be very difficult to convince subscribers to subscribe once again.

Nevertheless, by going free Malaysiakini would require less customer service and technology staff, and we would be able to save about RM200,000 per year in staffing costs.

Let’s say we get through with this initial hurdle. I believe Malaysiakini would get a huge readership – easily 500,000 per day. The big question is this - can we create advertising revenue from this readership? Here lies the RM2 million dollar question. To date, with over 100,000 readers per day, Malaysiakini only sells less than 10% of our pageviews.

Would increasing our readership generate more advertising? Theoretically yes, but how much and when? Malaysiakini would also then be dependent on advertising for our survival. Would we be able to report independently? Would we be able to run letters and articles which criticise our key advertisers, knowing very well that a drop in advertising could close down Malaysiakini ?

Besides search engines, most news websites do not get substantial advertising, unless one has a huge global audience. The Malaysian market is not of a similar size. As the online market grows, there are bound to be new online news organisations which will compete with Malaysiakini for the online advertising market.

We could, of course, rely on subscribers to donate funds to us in order to keep Malaysiakini alive. However, our readers are fond of complaining that we are either too pro-establishment or pro-opposition. Knowing that we are dependent on subscribers, it may be likely that potential donors, especially large ones, ‘suggest’ that we report one way or another.

Again Malaysiakini ’s editorial independence will be held hostage to personal agendas. Donors too, often suffer from donor fatigue, they may donate once, twice but they normally move on to another cause.

Some have suggested that we ask the opposition parties to bank role Malaysiakini . It would be difficult to believe that Malaysiakini will remain independent under such circumstances.

Advertising and donations are also highly unpredictable. Unfortunately, Malaysiakini does not have the working capital to sustain a few years of losses in order to survive short-term downturns in advertising and donations.

There are other possible revenue options – classified advertising, e-commerce, affiliate programmes, Google ads – however, none are sufficient to compensate for the loss of revenue from subscriptions.

Subscription revenue is excellent in the sense that we are accountable to the most important person – the reader. No single subscriber can pressure Malaysiakini to censor or change a particular story, thereby preserving our independence.

If Malaysiakini is inaccurate, biased or merely slow in reporting the news, we will quickly lose readers to free alternatives. Subscribers keep us on our toes, day in, day out, and - believe me - we feel the pressure everyday.

Malaysiakini does receive substantial donations from well-wishers and we also receive grants from press freedom organisations such as the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) and international bodies such as the Asia Foundation and Friedrich Naumann Foundation. However, no one organisation contributes more than 10% of Malaysiakini ’s total budget.

In short, making Malaysiakini free hands your - the reader’s - power over to the dictates of advertisers and donors. While we recognise our role in providing independent news and views to the nation, we hope that our readers and subscribers can also recognise that independent news is something that should be appreciated, supported and paid for by a small contribution from every subscriber.

Indeed, independent media needs independent financing. To all our loyal subscribers out there, thanks very much! We wouldn’t be here without you.

The writer is chief executive officer, Malaysiakini.com. He can be reached at: [email protected]

Jgolo:

Yes, I support the call for Malaysiakini to be made free. I visit your site daily and am disappointed to have to subscribe.

Steve Oh:

‘A Malaysiakini Fan’ suggests Malaysiakini should be free to all . That would be nice in a situation where it enjoys strong advertising revenue and is financially strong and can afford it.

But one does not have to be a maths genius to realise that the present advertising revenue would not be sufficient to pay the rent for its office let alone all the other expenses in running the online.

As one who has been in senior management of a newspaper company many years ago, I know what I am talking about. A newspaper needs a critical level of paid readership and advertising revenue before it breaks even, and the idea of a free Malaysiakini at the present juncture is not viable.

Instead we all ought to do more to help. There are so many ways to help from providing news leads, writing, or soliciting subscribers for it. The ways we can help are only limited by our imagination and willingness to do something.

Those that are able to provide freebies are usually large corporations or someone with a deep pockets. To expect the present management of Malaysiakini to fit this mould is unrealistic. You sometimes wonder if the management takes home anything at all. But such is the price of passion.

It is obvious the Malaysiakini crew are much driven by passion, the same passion that drives people to write letters and columns and opinions and take part in marches in the streets. These talented guys could have done better financially elsewhere yet they have persevered because of their passion. But you can't survive on passion alone.

And at what personal cost? Is it fair for Malaysians to let them carry the costs for benefits that we will subsequently reap? After all, when there is better governance we all are the beneficiaries and Malaysiakini has been pivotal in providing the platform for the dissemination of news and views that eventually formed the public opinion that resulted in five states going to the opposition.

The best thing we all can do is to bolster the financial resources of this online website and support it in various ways. I don't think Malaysiakini wants handouts. Those who have benefitted should not have short memories.

Malaysiakini represents the vanguard of a free media which is crucial for a democracy. It needs strong financial support to maintain that role. It was the first online to cut a swathe through the jungle of censorship and many bloggers first gained prominence through this online. Despite government and police harassment, Malaysiakini stood their ground and did not capitulate to the forces of repression.

While in recent times there are bloggers and the phenomenon of citizen journalism, they cannot replace a professional and independent newspaper, whether print or online. I have followed many Malaysian blogs but none of them are anywhere near the professionalism of Malaysiakini .

One obvious shortcoming of blogs is the absence of checks and balances within those blogs. They tend to be one-person shows (nothing wrong with that) though some like Raja Petra's Malaysia Today provide powerful exposes. But still, they are not the same as a professional newspaper.

If we all play our part in helping Malaysiakini become a strong independent voice for the people, democracy will get a better chance of seeing the day. There is an awakening in Malaysia but the journey is still tenuous and nothing should be taken for granted. I would encourage every reader to be a subscriber and to recruit others. It is the least they can do.

Even the former PM, Dr Mahathir Mohammed has had to eat humble pie and use Malaysiakini (which he persecuted) as his channel of communication when deserted by those journalists that once queued to see him. It is his tacit approval of Malaysiakini especially its indispensable role as a voice for the underdog.

As a businessman I would have no hesitation in advertising in Malaysiakini and I would urge other business people to consider doing the same. It is another practical form of support.

In fact there is no reason for the governments run by former opposition parties to show their support for the online website that once gave them a louder voice. If the federal government has learned anything it should not continue to persecute Malaysiakini which in my judgement is not pro-or anti anyone but stands for independent journalism.

Finally the government should do the decent thing of releasing the Hindraf 5 and all other prisoners of conscience held unfairly and immorally under the ISA. Malaysia can hold its head high and prove beyond a doubt that democracy is still alive and there is hope for a brighter future.

For the winners and losers, there is always tomorrow even if it is five years away. But for now, let's vote for Malaysiakini .



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