Running Alternative Media Platforms

At this year’s Splice Beta in Thailand’s Chiang Mai province, content creators shared their tips on how to launch alternative media platforms that steer away from the mainstream
Ankhbayar Tserenvandan, (left), co founder of Lemon Press, and Amanda Cua, founder of BackScoop. Kiripost via Splice Media
Ankhbayar Tserenvandan, (left), co founder of Lemon Press, and Amanda Cua, founder of BackScoop. Kiripost via Splice Media

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND – “I’m not a journalist. But that didn’t stop me from starting a media startup. Don’t let it stop you.” These are the themes of a recent discussion at a Splice Beta event in Chiang Mai province, Thailand. Ankhbayar Tserenvandan is cofounder of Lemon Press, a financial media company based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia with the mission to accelerate the development of the capital’s market.

The 28-year-old said that when he attends events, nobody knows him and outside of Mongolia, most people think Mongolians are primitive, live in huts and travel by horse.

Tserenvandan holds a degree in economics and was never trained as a journalist. He attended this month’s Splice Beta in Chiang Mai province, Thailand, to speak about newsletters and podcasts, which have in recent months emerged as new mediums to reach audiences.

“I’m just a regular guy,” he said. “Just like you guys, we have a capital city and the internet, thankfully,” Tserenvandan told audience at Chiang Mai University on November 1.

Tserenvandan said that Lemon Press has been successful and profitable in the last two years, mainly earning money from advertisers. He has not received any form of grant or investment.

Lemon Press delivers data, news, and analytics to the world. It focuses on delivering fact-based news. For example, data-driven stories about the country’s top banks and copper prices. This makes news simpler, shorter and more digestible for businesses to read.

Lemon Press currently has about 35,000 subscribers, with 500 regular editions and 20 special editions created to date.

It also has a dedicated YouTube channel, with 42,000 subscribers and two million views in total. In addition, the company produces podcasts. It boasts a back catalogue of 50, securing 30,000 active listeners and 220,000 listens.

Tserenvandan added that Lemon Press does not monetise subscriptions yet and the newsletter is free. The company has also not yet made any money from YouTube.

Even though Lemon Press has generated some revenue from financial institutions to support operations, advertisements can easily disappear one day.

“I have to keep good relationships with people with money,” he said, adding this is one of many challenges media institutions face. “This relationship with sponsorships has to be maintained all the time.”

He said that Lemon Press aims to one day follow Bloomberg’s business model - which is a profitable yearly terminal subscription.

Moving forward, Tserenvandan said that the challenge is visual work. It will take up to two years to finetune video and audio content. He added that, right now, there is little to no experience in the video production industry when it comes to delivering business news through digital channels.

“We have to keep experimenting and invest more into digital storytelling,” he said.

Another challenge is the shortage of editorial talent in the business media sector, where existing human resources is weak. People regularly jump from one form of media to another.

He said his team has to hire staff with business/finance backgrounds and build a culture where people are willing to commit. Another challenge is competing with politically-motivated media companies with huge financial backing.

Therefore, the solution, he said, is that his content is king and different from others, which takes time for some audiences to understand media and financial literacy.

The other challenge is the uncertain business model and that it is next to impossible to depend on ad revenue alone.

“We have to come up with a paid newsletter to get funding from end users.” He added that it takes time to be recognized in the industry before launching a subscription model.

A shortage of tech developers in the business sector is another challenge. Partnering with tech backed companies with full or partial experience.

Participants pose for picture at end of Splice Beta, November 2, 2022, Chiang Mai. Kiripost via Splice Media
Participants pose for picture at end of Splice Beta, November 2, 2022, Chiang Mai. Kiripost via Splice Media

Amanda Cua is from the Philippines and is the founder of BackScoop. Cua founded the free daily newsletter about startups, business and investment in Southeast Asia in 2021 at the age of 19.

Now, 20, Cua said she is happy with what she is doing, a role that she accidentally fell into.

Like Tserenvandan, Cua thinks it is too much work to rely on advertisements for revenue because it requires a writing and sales team. Cua is alone and curates news by herself for her seven-minute read newsletter – a move she made to enable subscribers to read on the way to work or during a meal.

She is educated in business and economics and said when she read the news every day, she felt the quality of journalism was not very high.

Her work is a curation of news so it is impossible to secure grants because the work is not original. However, she gets the money from venture investors.

“How I started was a total accident,” Cua said.

Consistency is also everything

Emilie Jacobsen, an advisor at International Media Suport (IMS), said at a networking event on November 3 in Chiang Mai that engagement is what media institutions need when running operations.

“People do not use social networks for a one-way experience. They’re seeking connections and the algorithms award engagement,” Jacobsen said.

She added that social media engagement is Likes, and Favorites, Comments, DMs, Replies, Shares and Retweets, Saves and Clicks.

Jacobsen also provided some tips for content on social media, particularly for video rules, in which the ideal length is two minutes - but with variations.

For Facebook, it is one minute, Instagram is 30 seconds, YouTube is under three minutes or more than 10 minutes, she said.

Recording and editing is everything, with eye-catching thumbnails. Remember, there are different size guidelines for each platform (For example, https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-video-specs-guide/).

Consistency is also everything, algorithms feed off input and if you constantly change behavior, they have to change constantly. A lack of consistency also makes you drop down in people’s feed. Consistency refers to the amount of content, type of content and, most importantly, frequency of posts.

Unfortunately, it is not possible for everyone to earn money from social media, depending on location, followers and content output, she said, adding that currently there are only few markets in Asia where it is possible to earn money on social media platforms

For Facebook, people can monetise in Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.

For TikTok, monetisation is possible so far only in the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, but people should look for Creator Next opportunities.

YouTube allows monetisation in Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

What are the alternatives?

People should take back control of the product, wean people off social media as the place for content, create daily, weekly or monthly newsletters, produce podcasts, organise events and focus on their own website.