Two days before heading the Elysée gathering, I had a conversation with the founder of a tiny French news sites called Bakchich. info. The guy’s name is Nicolas Beau. He has a hell of a track record in investigative reporting. He spent quite a while at le Canard Enchained, a satirical newspaper-like weekly known for its ability to scoop. (Le “Canard” is the most read and most feared publication in the French politics.) Problem is you read it with a nose-clip: it is 80% fed by denunciations (pissed-off government officials, and journalists from traditional media who tip it, for a fee) and 20% classical investigative journalism. In my view, Nicolas Beau was doing most of the latter, applying the best methods of the trade, digging in and up stories, lifting the veil on many shenanigans. A year ago, he left the paper to start Bakchich.info, taking a large pay cut in the process. As we were discussing, he pulled a small index card: “Here is the latest salary chart of the company, he said with a thin smile. It supposed to address our critical situation…” Among the ten or so staffers, salaries range from €1200 to €2200 a month. And Bakchich.info was unable to issue paychecks for December. “I don’t know if you realize: I’m reducing salaries to people I was unable to pay last month. None of them blinked. They continue to work 12 hours a day”. He knows they can’t continue for much longer though.
The point is not to defend or to celebrate the kind of journalism this site is doing. As a matter of fact, they do a good job, even though I’m personally not fond of their political leaning or their “Canard Enchainé”-like editing, etc. That’s not my point here. What bothers me is the current online news economy’s inability to sustain such a website. Bakchich.info found a decent audience, it is closely monitored by the mainstream media (which often steal their content without giving credit) and, yes, is important to have in the media landscape (especially in the wake of the previous entry in this Monday Note).
With its new belt-tightening, Bakchich.info is burning about €45,000 a month, coffe-capsules included. And they are about to die. They are making a few bucks with ads (in a depressed market); they converted some parts of the site to a paid-for mode. More interestingly, they are about to sign a content syndication deal to third-party new sites interested in their original work. This is actually a smart move from those sites. One of them said that he was fed-up with the usual mash-up of newswires that is everywhere on the Net. I think he’s right (and, for the longer term, the Agence France-Press has a huge product-related problem – that’s another story). Altogether Bakchich.info is able to cover two thirds of its costs. But with no cash in hand, they are doomed.
I’m ready to bet it would not require more than €200.000 to €400.000 to reach breakeven within six months. They could increase their Google referencing, proceed with some inexpensive traffic acquisition, and develop a true syndication activity for their editorial, cartoons, and video contents. Six months. In normal time, many mainstream medias would consider buying Bakchich.info at once. The site is quite unique on its segment and it could instantaneously provide content that most sites lack, in terms of original features, we-go-after-the-story kind of thing. But, in those hard times, the potential suitors are numb or short of cash — in addition, many of them are blind. — FF