WordPress.com parent company Automattic has announced a new publishing platform for news sites, designed to help small-to-medium sized publications generate more revenue.

The initiative, which is called Newspack by WordPress.com, is launching in partnership with News Revenue Hub and Spirited Media. But interestingly, Newspack is backed by $2.4 million in funding from big names including Google, through the Google News Initiative it launched last March — Google actually contributed half the funds. Other contributors include The Lenfest Institute for Journalism ($400,000), ConsenSys ($350,000), and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation ($250,000). Another as-yet unnamed source is expected to throw in another $200,000 later this month.

This funding will be used to see the project through its first year in operation.

Obstacles

WordPress needs little introduction — it is now thought to power at least 30 percent of the Web, though this includes both the non-hosted open source blogging software available through WordPress.org, and the for-profit hosted WordPress.com platform.

WordPress in its various forms is already used by many major publications, in addition to millions of sites run by individuals and local publishers, but with Newspack, Automattic is targeting smaller news outlets that may “struggle with the complexities of technology selection, development, maintenance, hosting, and security,” according to a press release. Indeed, throw all these obstacles together, and it becomes just that bit more difficult to create a solid and sustainable business.

“Local news organizations are struggling to find sustainable models for journalism — a crisis that has very real implications for democracy,” noted WordPress.com president Kinsey Wilson. “We’re joining with industry leaders to bring technology, publishing and business expertise together in a single platform that can be shared by news organizations across the globe.”

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The Newspack platform itself is still very much in pilot mode, and it’s not expected to launch — even as a beta proof-of-concept product — until July, 2019, where it will be used by around a dozen websites. But from now until February 1, applications are being accepted from a wide-range of publications spanning myriad audiences, geographies, and models. However, Automattic said it will prioritize outlets that have previously demonstrated “editorial and financial success” in their respective markets, though fledgling news startups will also be considered if they have a “strong launch plan.”

It’s worth noting here that Automattic already offers the premium WordPress VIP service, which is an enterprise-grade offering optimized for security and scalability, but that is aimed at larger websites and comes with a cost running into tens of thousands of dollars a month. Newspack is for those that don’t have such budgets.

Details are still a little scant in terms of what the Newspack platform will offer, specifically. But according to Automattic, it will combine “the best editorial and business practices” from across the publishing industry.

The development period will run through January 2020, at which point it’s expected to open to around 60 news outlets. The pre-launch phase will be funded entirely by Automattic and its donors — once that period expires, publications can expect to pay somewhere in the region of $1,000 and $2,000 each month.

“Our hope with Newspack is to give them a platform where they can continue to focus on what they do best, while we focus on providing world-class technology and support across their editorial and business operations,” added Automattic editor Mark Armstrong.

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