There are plenty of startups that want to revolutionize the media business or transform the journalism profession. Ebyline — an angel-financed startup founded by two former Los Angeles Times executives that launched today — doesn’t want to do any of that. Co-founder Bill Momary says what the company really wants to do is simple: drag the process of producing and syndicating news content into the 21st century. Ebyline believes it can make journalism more efficient by creating an open marketplace: a kind of iTunes for journalism.
At the moment, says Momary, the relationship between freelance journalists and the newspapers, magazines and websites they write for is archaic and inefficient (as someone who recently worked for a major newspaper, I can vouch for this). Freelancers have to cold-call publishers and then negotiate their own rates, then they have to invoice and manage their own billing and payment. Ebyline automates that process, handling all the billing and payment between the writer and the publisher. Freelancers can also “self-syndicate” by putting their content up for bid in Ebyline’s marketplace.
“Having worked at a newspaper, we knew that the economic model around content was really broken — but not the demand for quality content, because that has actually increased,” Momary said in an interview. “What publishers really need is a way to cut costs and still provide that quality content, so we built a platform to help publishers and freelancers connect with each other in a more efficient way.”
Existing relationships between publishers and newswire services or other content syndication providers are expensive and inefficient, says Momary, because they involve hefty annual fees, and many publishers only make use of a fraction of what they pay for. Ebyline’s “a la carte” model allows them to pay for only the articles they actually use, and charges a small fee (8 percent of the total) for being the middleman in the process. It also exposes them to a marketplace of other writers they might not be familiar with, and does the same for freelancers, allowing them to broaden their reach.
Selling content produced by freelance writers makes Ebyline sound a little like Demand Media, Associated Content and other so-called “content farms,” but Momary says Ebyline is “upstream” or higher on the food chain than these other companies, in the sense that it handles only content produced by trained journalists; freelancers are approved either by having their work published by an existing publisher, or by submitting work that is then judged by Ebyline staff, in the same way that Apple determines whose apps will be allowed into the iTunes store. Ebyline is also focused on news-driven content, he says, rather than content generated based on keywords or a search algorithm.
Unlike a startup such as NewsTilt — which launched earlier this year as a platform for independent journalists but folded several months later — the Ebyline founder says he’s not trying to build a new content business, but simply automating and making more efficient one that already exists. Since traditional publishers such as newspapers are desperately trying to reduce costs and become more efficient in order to remain in business, Ebyline’s pitch seems like it would be a fairly attractive one. The company is already working with Variety magazine, ProPublica, MinnPost and the Texas Observer, and is currently trying to raise a Series A financing round.
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