In One’s Own Words
Is it possible to create a newspaper from scratch and to live on advertising?
This question is being answered by the first guest of the "In One’s Own Words" section, Marat Makhmetov, the founder and promotions director of the "My City" newspaper. Over the past two years, the Foundation has supported 15 regional media organizations in the process of their transition to multimedia versions. "My City", a Uralsk newspaper, not only created its first website with a daily attendance of 10 000 unique users, but also became the first regional media organization that launched its own digital application.
"Our entire team was formed when we were still working together in a local publication. Then later, by a twist of fate, we had to scatter to other media outlets in the city and the region, but we kept up our friendship, and at times, we would become very nostalgic as we were thinking about our working day lives. That was when I had the idea of establishing our own media outlet, where I would be able to bring all of my friends back together.
Of course, and needless to say we had no money. We did not have an office or equipment; and our employees had not been paid for six months. But we had a common idea and great motivation and belief in ourselves and in one another. As time has shown, this is above wealth. I can still remember us signing our first advertising contract for 200 000 tenge. In fact, that was more than just money; it gave us confidence. We bought our first laptop on credit terms and our accountant used it during her working day, it was used by a journalist in the evening and by the designer at night. I clearly remember the day when I had the first issue of our newspaper; it was such a delight to look at something that we had invested so much effort, time, and heart into. You know, it's very cool to be able to inspire people, to infect them with an idea and to involve them into a process; to feel that those people believe in you, and most importantly, that you did it!
We got our first office half a year later; it was a small room, where we could put our computers. We bartered desks for advertising and there were times when we had to pay salaries in kind. I remember once, when we, as the entire editorial staff went to buy ourselves jeans and shirts.
A year later, we regained our feet and we began to expand our circulation and the number of pages increased. Initially, we had 24 pages, 4 of them were colored. We began with a circulation of 2 000, and reached 6 000.
By the end of the first year it was clear that we needed a website; we had no money for that and started looking for grants. Today, I think that if the Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan had not supported us two years ago, we could have been closed by now. Today, the website brings in 30% of income, and I really want that figure to grow. At first, advertising did not sell well, but we were able to rebuild the work of our advertising managers in such a way that it would be more profitable for them to sell advertising on the website. Things got rolling and I believe that in the region (it is clear that "Ak Zhayik" leaves us behind) we are one of the few media outlets, which profits from the website.
In 2014, we participated in the Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan tender for the development of a website mobile application. We were among the six publications that won this competition and we launched our mobile app in 2015. To date, the number of application downloads from the site is 20 000 and we have 10 000 active users. People want to read the news and they do it in a way that suits them. Today, the audience for our mobile application is much larger than that of the website. The number of comments on our mobile application is still growing. It is great in terms of accessibility, but in terms of making money the situation is not yet clear. Unfortunately, as it has turned out, the market is not yet ready for digital applications, and we have not been able to attract advertisers to this site; but we do believe that the situation will change over time.
In 2015, I took a one-year course, iMediaProject and after this project we were a truly integrated editorial staff. All of our employees are multi-taskers and they can write the news, take pictures and post things on the website on their own. The main thing in this project is not just to teach specific things to the participants, but to do it in such a way that they would get some kind of idea, a basic idea that could be applied in their editorial offices and in their work to improve the media space of Kazakhstan. That was when I had the idea to create a Kazakh-language website. When I was born, there was only one Kazakh language school in Uralsk. At the moment, the situation is changing and the local Kazakh population is increasing. I wondered, how will people who do not know Russian learn the news? Do they watch the "Khabar" channel? Is there any alternative way of getting information? That’s what inspired me to create www.batysnewskz.kz, our Kazakh-language website.
I am often asked what is needed to create your own media organization? How can one make money on advertising? My answer is always simple and banal. You just have to live up to rapidly changing times. We must always be on the lookout, be open-minded, constantly learning, not afraid to take risks, always looking for opportunities. And, of course, the key to success is in your own environment, the people. Of course, all of this would not have happened without a close-knit team, without my friends and colleagues.
Recorded by Ainel Kainazarova