Knight Center
Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Brazilians launch "Libre," a new microfinancing technology for journalism



Brazil has seen dozens of independent journalism initiatives emerge in recent years, many of them launched with the proposal of innovating in terms of content and the ways it’s presented. One challenge facing most of these initiatives concerns financial sustainability: how to generate the income needed to improve journalistic quality, keeping content accessible to as many people as possible?

Libre, a new microfinancing technology for digital journalism, aims to help Brazilian outlets solve this impasse. The tool uses a mechanism similar to likes and shares in social networks, but proposes the transformation of these manifestations of appreciation for content into financial support for outlets and journalists.

“The amount of clicks and reach on networks have become dangerously synonymous with success," said Bruno Torturra, of journalism studio Fluxo, Ariel Kogan of Open Knowledge Brasil, and Thiago Rondon from AppCivico, the team responsible for Libre. Torturra, Kogan and Rondon responded jointly to questions from the Knight Center about the technology that was launched in mid-September.

Brazilians launch "Libre", a new microfinance technology for journalism​.

"While likes and shares determine this new relevance, they do not create a direct relationship between audience and financial return. The idea is to offer a new metric, a bridge that allows a small and direct economic recognition of the contents that the public determines to be the most valuable," they explained.

The tool appears as a button on editorial pages inviting the reader to click, and instead of simply appreciating the material or sharing it in their profiles on social networks, collaborate with the outlet by donating a Libre. In order to donate, the reader must register on the Libre platform and select a monthly pre-paid plan from among those available on the website, which range from R$20 (about US $6) to R$500 (US $157) per month. Once registered, the reader can distribute their Libres between the sites that they frequent.

The value of a Libre starts at R$1 (US $0.31) and can rise if the person distributes less Libre than the maximum of their contracted monthly plan. As shown on the platform, if a reader has a plan of R$30 and donated 30 Libres in a month, each Libre is worth R$1, but if the plan is R$30 and 10 Libres were donated, each Libre is worth R$3.

"We believe that Libre offers a particularly simple and direct solution to sample the audience and the relevance they attribute to content. It's an intuitive, familiar kind of interface in this timeline environment and post-to-post information consumption," the creators of the technology said.

Torturra, Kogan and Rondon said that the initial expectation with Libre is "to test the platform’s fundamental hypothesis: that there is an audience interested in quality journalism that is willing to participate in creating a new economic viability for the press.” The second "is to create a sense of belonging, community through shared economic solutions among digital outlets and journalists," as well as "to bring people and outlets together in a relationship of mutual support and trust."

Fact-checking agency Aos Fatos is one of the first outlets to adopt the tool. "Aos Fatos supports Libre in this first phase because it believes that it needs to embrace innovative projects, test them, understand them, help its creators adapt them," agency director Tai Nalon told the Knight Center. "If the new journalistic enterprises do not serve to try new formulas of narrative, technology, management and financing, what then do they serve?" she asked.

The creators of the tool also alluded to the recent explosion of digital journalism in Brazil, celebrating experimentation in business models. They criticized, however, what they consider as repetition of "dysfunctional funding models for journalism."

"Crowdfunding works well for specific projects, but not for monthly sustainability. Subscriptions require a broad, faithful base and a high content production. Paywall restricts the impact of journalism and only works for outlets with great strength and volume," they believe. "We do not want any outlet to change its business plans or to have Libre as the only source of revenue. But it can be a complementary  and very useful tool to generate more revenue and a more direct and tangible relationship with the public."

For Nalon from Aos Fatos, "new journalism initiatives have very different forms of funding, so it's difficult to know which is the ideal model and whether there are models that work better than others." But she believes something can be said of all journalistic endeavors: "No outlet can afford to live only from one financial source. Libre could be one of them,” she said.

In addition to Aos Fatos, Libre has also been adopted by a site focused on urban cycling, Vá de Bike, and gastronomy site Gastrolândia. The creators of the tool said they are open to outlets and journalists from any area who want to adopt it.

"Well-researched reporting, relevant articles done with hard work may not be big successes in terms of audience but have the potential to generate high financial returns. And we also believe that the tool can be especially interesting for topics of more specific interest," they said.

"In these first weeks, all the tests went well and we are making the first real transfer to the outlets for the support given to corresponding content. We are ready to register more outlets and increase the base of supporters."



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