« We were possibly the first project in Quebec to use the Kickstarter platform»
Montreal, April 25th, 2019
Author, editor and social entrepreneur, Nicolas Langelier is the founder and editor in chief of Nouveau Projet, five-time finalist as Magazine of the year in Canada. With the publisher Atelier 10, that he has also founded and managed for the past eight years, Nicolas works on developing projects that will allow a more in-depth understanding of the issues of our time, to take a more active part in society, and to lead a more significant and satisfying life. He won several times at the Canadian magazine Awards, be it as a journalist, editor or writer in chief. His novel, Réussir son hypermodernité en 25 étapes faciles was a finalist for the Prix des libraires du Québec in 2011. He was also the president of the Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec from 2007 to 2011.
Can you briefly summarize Nouveau Projet, its history and its mission?
Nicolas Langelier: Nouveau Projet was founded in 2012, its purpose being to publish texts that were endangered in Quebec’s media environment. In other words, texts that examine questions on a more in-depth level and that cover subjects that do not necessarily have anything to do with the news. Since the beginning of the century, there have been closures and shocks to the media system which have led to this type of media work, requiring more time or research, to be progressively abandoned. I realized that there was a need for more in-depth media coverage, which pushed further, and that innovation was needed in order to develop a business model that allowed for the production of texts stemming from an almost investigative form of journalism. I was convinced, and I still am, that this publication would have a real social utility for our democracy. The media’s abandonment of this type of texts was dangerous for society. Nouveau Projet was launched with the societal ambition to avoid repeating the same mistakes made by other media platforms in recent years. The project is structured as an incorporated private enterprise. This choice was made for many reasons which were justified at the time.
Can you tell us more about this business model?
N.L.: Originally, the business model was to surround the magazine with a large number of projects that generated different sources of income, which would finance the production of the magazine, which would not cover its fees entirely. The idea was that, by surrounding the magazine with projects which were able to generate significant income, it would allow for the magazine to exist. This was why we also launched a collection of books, essays called documents, and plays, under the title pièces. We also produce content for other organizations: from private companies to nonprofits. At the start, we solicited people through a crowdfunding campaign. This was in 2011. At the time, we were, I believe, the first project in Quebec to use the Kickstarter platform, which was in its beginnings in the United States. It was a success. We collected 25 000$. This sum was a small portion of the funding required to start the project, however, it gave us a good start. Also, people were invested in the project from the beginning. We have maintained this support at many levels since the launch of Nouveau Projet. We have solicited grantmaking philanthropic organizations, but we have not received any support on that front. Other than the initial crowdfunding campaign, our sources of income come for the large part in four forms:
- Income from our readership, subscriptions (16%) and kiosk sales (29%);
- Corporate and advertisement income (15%) and content produced for other organizations (23%);
- Income from parallel projects, for example, the store in which we also host events (8%);
- Government grants (9%).
The diversity of income sources is beneficial for us, as it allows for a certain level of stability. If, for instance, advertisement sales suddenly drop, we are not in peril. The other sources of funding allow us to maintain our activities.
In the United States, we are witnessing an increase in foundations investing in the media ecosystem. Would Nouveau Projet be interested in philanthropic funding?
N.L.: We would not likely refuse additional support. This being said, what we have noticed for the time being is that only nonprofit organizations receive support. There is not much money going towards private companies such as ours. Maybe mentalities will change.
The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec published an open letter to the federal government which read: “The written press is currently undergoing the worst crisis in history. The issue is simple: if nothing is done, many journals, printed or digital, might stop their activities in the near future“. In this difficult context, could private donations finance journalism and compensate for the traditional commercial model’s gap?
N.L.: My position on the matter is YES, donations could most certainly contribute. However, I see a danger in completely depending on these sources of income. The risk is of compromising a self-sufficient business model, like ours, which allows us to generate independent income while producing quality information. In fact, in order to maintain the information being generated, we must absolutely remain in a dynamic in which consumers give us money. It is a definite issue to connect the quality of information with our readership’s recognition of the latter. This has been our position at Nouveau Projet from the beginning. It worries me that other media organizations don’t have this philosophy and find themselves in a position where they are dependent solely on the generosity of individuals or organizations and not on on the quality of their product. It doesn’t seem like a solid path for the long-term.
We often talk about limitations that can impact the sustainability of a journal, what about the impact on its content?
N.L: I have the impression that companies that decide to exist without support choose to take the commercial route, that is easier and more profitable. However, I’m convinced that it is possible to generate quality news while getting people to pay. It’s a service. It’s too bad that organizations favour the idea that people don’t want to pay for what the service is worth. Journals such as La Presse make that gamble. Their idea is to found a new business proposal: “We will provide the content, but give us donations”. It’s a curious way of approaching business. If you feel that your product is interesting and that it has social utility, why not pay for the product? It’s a funny way of valuing your product, to think that people aren’t ready to pay for it on a regular basis, but are willing to support the work through donations. I don’t understand the logic behind the concept.
This brings us to ask you about the community of interest around Nouveau Projet.
N.L.: We work very hard to keep our community happy as we are conscious that people are being solicited in all kinds of ways, which affects their attention span and their free time. Our main competitor is not Le Devoir or La Presse, it’s actually Netflix and all other forms of entertainment that exist nowadays. It is much easier to watch a movie than to pick up a magazine and read twelve-page articles. This forces us to establish a privileged relationship with those who support us. We offer things to our readers and make sure they feel special. In exchange, we have never put our subscriptions on sale. If you sign-up to Nouveau Projet today, it will basically cost you the same as if you were to buy it at a kiosk one issue at a time. We didn’t do what most magazines do and sell our subscription at a fourth or third of the price and seek advertisement sales to compensate. We are very much aware that the advertisement market is not what it used to be and we can’t depend on it. At Nouveau Projet, we sell our subscriptions full-price, but we offer our subscribers a set of advantages that motivate them to pay the price.
You briefly mentioned the case of La Presse, this large private publication that became a nonprofit “social trust”. What do you think about this model?
N.L.: I would like to add something that worries me. I wouldn’t want us to find ourselves in a situation where the only media organizations that benefit from governmental support are those who become nonprofits or charitable organizations. It would be dangerous, on the one hand, because there are many media organizations that already exist that aren’t nonprofits. Why stop supporting them when their work is as important? On the other hand, I’m worried that it would discourage the entrepreneurial initiative of the next generation. If potential young entrepreneurs have the impression that the media is not an interesting domain because the only media companies that are funded are nonprofits, coops or charities, they might change fields completely. For example, I can think of videogames or virtual content. This situation would be harmful. We would need to find a media funding system that leaves room for a wide variety of legal statuses so that a private company like ours can be funded by a foundation for example. I hope that philanthropic foundations will also become more flexible regarding the organizations they support in order to base their decision to give grants or not on the quality of the organization and of its product and not only on their legal status.
For foundations, it is technically difficult to support you even if they wanted to…
N.L. Yes, exactly. What could be done, would be for the government to give media companies, even if they are privately incorporated, the possibility of emitting tax-deductible receipts. The rules of the game would be fairer. There really are many advantages in being a private company the dynamics it brings as well as in the way they function, but at the moment, the rules of the game don’t favour them at all. This is a direction that could be delved into, although I am well aware that from the government’s perspective, it could be scary. This request could also be taken up by other sectors. Where to draw the line and how to be held accountable to society in general? I have to admit, it’s a vast issue.
This being said, there are many tax deductions for private companies nowadays that make no sense. If you are a company and you reserve a box at the Bell Center to watch the hockey games, you get a tax deduction. A revision of company taxation is definitely in order. What company expenditures do we want, or not want, to encourage as a society? New models exist, for example, B corp which is for companies that don’t necessarily have the nonprofit status but have a way of seeing things and a way of treating stakeholders that is similar to nonprofits. In France, they are also developing a new status for these types of companies. It already exists in the United States. Maybe we should revise our own statuses to accept the fact that there are people who want to be the owners of their companies, but who have social objectives and aren’t only seeking to increase their own wealth. I certainly didn’t create Atelier 10 to become rich. If I had wanted to do so, I would have chosen another project niche and business philosophy.
In conclusion, PhiLab hosted a conference called “Will philanthropy save the press?” on April 5th, 2019. In the aim of gathering the opinions of various actors in the field, what is your own answer to this question?
N.L.: I hope that this is not what will save the press in general. I think that philanthropy can be part of the solution. It is a possible source of income to support a healthy and dynamic press, which is necessary for a democracy. I mainly hope that philanthropy won’t be seen as the saviour of the press, as this would mean there was a failure at another level. For instance, this could mean that we have abandoned the idea that it is a sector that could be commercially viable. There is a way to produce quality news that makes money with people who are willing to pay. People are willing to pay for their coffee, their clothes, yoga, etc. Why would they not be willing to pay for quality news? The question is mostly rhetorical as I believe people are willing to do so, we just need to convince them of it. Obviously, it isn’t easy. We are asking people to compensate for the private companies that divested themselves from the media sector and put their money into Facebook and Google.
Translation by Katherine Mac Donald