Canadian Magazine Industry News
11 August 2009,     VANCOUVER
Beyond print: The nuts and bolts of Orato
The third in a series: Masthead looks inside the toolboxes of five very different online-only publications to show you how they were built from the ground up. Today: Orato.
Orato's editorial model is based on first-person citizen journalism.
Orato's editorial model is based on first-person citizen journalism.

With about 1,000 correspondents around the world, Vancouver-based online magazine Orato, which launched in 2006, casts a wide net in its search for writers. The site, whose name means “I speak” in Latin, doesn’t just seek professional journalists; many of its contributors are people who have personally experienced the news. In 2007, Orato made media waves by hiring two former sex-trade workers to cover the Pickton murder trial.

The editorial blueprints: The site covers a wide range of subjects, from business and entertainment, to sports, science and self-help. It publishes an average of 25 new stories every day and, since this May, has started paying writers 20% of what their stories earn from Google ads, rather than a flat fee. This means writers are continually paid if their story keeps generating ad revenue. After a writer submits 25 stories, five of which get dubbed “Editor’s Choice,” their byline changes to “Special Correspondent” and they receive 30% of Google ad revenue from their stories. The model is similar to the one employed by Suite101, where Joy Gugeler, Orato's publisher and editor-in-chief since January 2009, previously served as EIC.

According to Gugeler, writers can publish directly to the site, which leaves a window of time before editors get to revise posted content. However, she works with two other full-time editors to review posts and offer personalized feedback to improve the quality of future articles. The site plans to recruit virtual section editors in the future.

The audience development blueprints: Orato aims for a wide audience. Gugeler estimates the general audience is 25- to 55-year-olds. When the site first launched, it was promoted through online forums and communities, and some of the writers were personal contacts and colleagues. Now, the site’s newsletter reaches about 5,000 members.

Although the site is active on Facebook and Twitter, Gugeler says Orato isn’t a “destination site.” About 75% of readership is search-driven, with readers coming straight from search engines.

The business blueprints: Orato was launched by B.C.-based entrepreneur Sam Yehia, who funded the site out of his own pocket, with some help from his friends. (Cost of launch is not being disclosed.) The major operating expenses boil down to server fees, staff salaries and writer payment—office rent is not an issue because Yehia owns the offices where the site operates.

Gugeler could not reveal Orato's revenues, saying only that, “With the new model, we don’t pay until we get paid; it’s a shared risk scenario. It’s in our best interest to promote the writer and drive traffic."

The growth blueprints:
Orato receives about 40,000 unique visitors each month. Gugeler is hoping the number of visitors will keep rising to increase ad revenue, which accounts for 100% of revenue. She's also interested in developing a partnership with a major news site or print publication, similar to the content-sharing deal between the Globe and Mail and popular blog Torontoist, and is planning several strategies to expand the website.

Previous articles in the series:
— Laura Godfrey
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