Thursday, February 10, 2011

Headlines for cellphones produce $60,000 a month for Guatemalan newspaper

Newspapers battered by the collapse of the traditional business model might turn to this type of text-based SMS service as a new source of revenue.

(La versión original en español se encuentra aquí.)

El Periódico of Guatemala has launched a headline service for cellphones that is producing $60,000 a month. After only four months, the service had 40,000 subscribers, said José Rubén Zamora, founder and president of the newspaper. (Photo from International Center for Journalists)

The subscribers for these headlines outnumber the 30,000 who buy the daily paper.

Zamora is not aware of other media offering this type of service, but he is bracing himself for competition in the niche from his biggest competitor.

Six messages a day

Subscribers pay the equivalent of 36 cents a day to receive three text messages with news in categories they choose, such as traffic, sports and business. The next three messages are free. The charges are added to the subscriber´s cellphone account, and the newspaper receives 30 percent.

Zamora said the goal is to send no more than six messages a day so as not to overwhelm the subscribers.

Clients of the cellphone company Tigo can subscribe directly from their phones by sending a message to 7111 with the name of the newspaper. Zamora hopes to sign up the other two major cellphone companies to offer a similar service.

"One of the things that surprised us most was the interest people have in knowing very early in the morning how traffic is in the city," Zamora said. "There are people who subscribe just to know this. Others like to know the market trends."

Similar services in Mexico

The Reforma chain, one of Mexico´s largest, offers a menu of information services for cellphones at $4 a month for each. One of the major dailies, El Universal, charges $4 a month for information on cellphones.

The next step: videos, photos and music

Zamora has plans to expand the service with multimedia. He was looking at the World Cup as a chance to attract a larger audience. "We´re going to publish interviews with the coaches, summaries of the day, the goals. Subscribers will be able to download photos of the star players, cartoons, models wearing the uniforms of the different teams."

All of this would be available on the phone. He is also planning to offer music services.

A defender of freedom of expression

For Zamora, this new revenue allows El Periódico to maintain a newsroom of journalists dedicated to high quality journalism.

He and his family have suffered attacks for his defense of free expression. In 2003, the International Center for Journalists honored him for his courageous work.

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