This is one in a series of stories that highlights each company in the 2019 class of the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars. Visit LIFT Labs to learn more about this world-class program for connectivity, media and entertainment startups, and get information on applications for the next class.
Sumorwuo Zaza is tackling one of journalism's toughest problems: monetizing content. In the old days, people bought physical newspapers and magazines and those revenues, combined with advertising sales, made publishers profitable. But the digital age ushered in an expectation that content should be free — and today's news consumers are reluctant to pay for subscription-only content. Think about it: How many times have you navigated to a news story online but didn't read it because it required a subscription?
The paradigm leaves readers frustrated and publishers churning out clickbait content just to survive. And it's shrinking newsrooms. In the first five months of 2019, 3,000 journalists have been laid off or been offered buyouts — the worst level of attrition since 2009.
Zaza knew there had to be a better way, so, he built it. His company is called NICKL, and it offers a pass for individuals and teams to access news, information and resources online. One pass with NICKL unlocks news articles from a growing number of publishers. Readers get personalized subscriptions and only pay for what they read, while publishers get added revenue and access to new audiences.
"Publishers are trying to get to consumers but having trouble sustaining themselves," Zaza said. "In order to do that, they're pivoting to paywalled and subscription models. Unfortunately, that has had a negative effect, where everyone can't access the content they need."
Since knowledge sharing is so crucial for organizations and teams to succeed, Zaza is targeting NICKL to companies with 100 to 10,000 employees.
"If you're on a team and you have 10 articles you need to read and share with teammates and everyone hits a paywall, they can't get the news and info they need to do a better job or be a better teammate," Zaza said.