As noted in a blog published earlier today, the Denver Post is reporting that the three entrepreneurs backing the INDenver Times online news operation are leaving the project. However, the Post was unable to reach Kevin Preblud, the investor who speaks for the trio, prior to publication -- and while Preblud, who spoke with Westword earlier this morning, didn't find the broadsheet's account to be "grossly inaccurate," he characterizes the latest developments in a far different way. He makes it clear that he and partners Brad Gray and Benjamin Ray haven't given up on the concept behind INDenver Times, and they plan to continue working with the former Rocky Mountain News staffers who teamed up to create it. However, he says the business plan as announced at a March 16 press conference didn't prove tenable. The crew felt they needed to line up 50,000 subscribers in order to properly launch the full website on May 4 -- and Preblud reveals that, as of today, only about 3,000 signed up.
"My group is going to continue to move forward," Preblud says. "We still have a shared vision with writers about creating a successful platform for online local journalism. We didn't reach our subscription goal of 50,000, which was the basis for our original business model. But we still believe there's a viable business model out there, and we're continuing to move forward in our efforts to determine what that alternative business model might look like."
Preblud confirms another aspect of the Post article -- the view among the three backers that moving forward with the current staff of around thirty journalists isn't fiscally feasible. "It's a difficult business climate right now," he points out. "And it's a difficult advertising climate. And without the 50,000 subscribers, we weren't willing to go forward with a business model that didn't make financial sense in the immediate near term. Our belief is that a model with a thirty-person newsroom has a very lengthy road ahead of it to reach financial viability."
How many journos could such an operation support? Preblud doesn't say specifically -- but he thinks that "an alternative business model would be one in which we could look at our revenue sources and build a cost structure that matched up with what we believe is revenue we could count on in the near term. And when you look at things that way, the number certainly isn't thirty."
Regarding the subscription total to date, he concedes that "50,000 was certainly a lofty goal. But the reality is, 3,000 is a pretty strong number given what I've come to know about subscription sizes for online sites. Setting aside the Wall Street Journal, 3,000 is a pretty good number."
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Nevertheless, all of the INDenver Times subscribers will be informed shortly that they will not be charged the amount they pledged to pay. Preblud and company promised at the time of the March 16 announcement that money would be collected beginning on May 4 only if 50,000 folks signed up.
As for the future of the site, Preblud notes that the journalists involved want to keep INDenver Times going. But the question of salaries remains up in the air as well. "If we go forward, it's going to be a model whereby anyone who is contributing content to the site will be compensated," he emphasizes. However, he says that as far as he knows, a decision has yet to be reached about if or how long it will publish beyond today.
"I'm not disappointed," Preblud insists. "It's been an amazing ride for the last five weeks, and I think we've learned a great deal. Although we didn't meet our subscription goal, our other online metrics are phenomenal." He adds that "the heroes in all this are the journalists, and I still have a commitment to journalism. We all do -- and this is like any business model. There's always challenges, and you don't always know all the answers up front. But we believe professional journalism is a crucial component of not only a community but a democracy, and we're going to continue to move forward in support of that" -- as long as the "business model works. And it works in the immediate term."