How Much Does it Cost to Run a News Website?

December 7, 2020

So you’ve read all about how we need local and independent news more than ever and you’re convinced that we need more local news sites. Even better, you want to be a news entrepreneur and start a business around your own news website.

Great! But how do you know what you’re getting yourself into and how much money you need to make to cover the cost of your website?

We’ve crunched the numbers so you know exactly what kind of costs to expect.

First, what is the typical news website technology stack?

We recently reviewed 100 local news websites and examined their technologies and digital strategies. For the most part, the technologies used by news websites fall in one of the following categories:

  • Content Management Systems (CMS) – the tool you use to actually write, publish and keep track of your online content while creating lay-outs for your website or blog
  • Web Hosting – the servers that make it possible for your website and its content to actually appear online
  • Analytics – the tools for analyzing how readers are engaging with your website and its online content
  • Email Marketing Platform – the technologies used to capture email signups on your website and to design and send email newsletters to your subscribers
  • Digital Advertising – tools for placing and selling digital advertising on your website
  • Memberships / Donations – technology for creating online paywalls, collecting subscriptions and / or accepting donations on your website

You can get the even more details by the full report of our digital review for free, but for the purposes of this article we will just look at the most popular tool used by news websites in each category:

  • Content Management System (CMS) - WordPress
  • Web Hosting -WP Engine
  • Analytics - Google Analytics
  • Email Marketing Platform - Mailchimp
  • Digital Advertising - Google Adsense
  • Memberships / Donations -Memberful

How much does the typical news website cost?

Let’s look at each category individually and see how much the technology costs depending on how popular your website or blog is.

  • WordPress - Free, but a premium theme is recommended (~$50 / year). One of the reasons that WordPress is so popular among news sites is that it is open-source and entirely free to use for its basic functions of getting your content online. There are, however, some add-ons that are worthwhile to pay for such as a premium theme that takes care of the initial design for your site.
  • WP Engine - starts at $25/month. WP Engine is one of the most popular online hosting platforms for news websites since they provide a good value-for-money service that solves a lot of the performance and scaling issues that come with a WordPress site.
  • Google Analytics - Free. Google Analytics was a default for all of the local news sites we reviewed. You can’t beat the information that you can gather through it for free. (Many sites used additional paid providers for supplemental analytics, but that is a topic for another day.)
  • Mailchimp - Free but the cost rises quickly. Mailchimp is pretty standard among news sites since they have some of the most reliable WordPress integrations and they have a free plan for up to 2,000 subscribers. Once you go beyond that though, their pricing can get a little steep. We did a full breakdown of their costs here.
  • Google Adsense - Free / Revenue share. Google Adsense is the easiest way to get started with digital advertising on your news site since you don’t have to pay them anything up-front. Instead, the cost comes from the fact that it isn’t as lucrative as direct advertising can be. Once sites get more of a following it is common for them to use a paid digital advertising service like Broadstreet that isn’t free, but enables you to sell digital ads directly to local businesses.
  • Memberful - starts at $25/month but takes 5% of payments. Memberful is one of the quickest ways that you can get a paywall up on your site and offer premium content to your subscribers. They have very reasonable monthly fees but once you start to grow, the cost of transaction fees will start to bite.

Let’s look at how all the costs stack up depending on how big your news website or blog gets:

  • Starting out (10,000 monthly visits to your site, 1,000 newsletter subscribers) - Total: $54/month
    • WP Engine: $25/month
    • Memberful: $25/month
    • WordPress theme: ~$4/month
  • Growing (50,000 monthly visits to your site, 5,000 newsletter subscribers) - Total: $205/month
    • WP Engine: $96/month
    • Mailchimp: $80/month
    • Memberful: $25/month
    • WordPress theme: ~$4/month
  • Big (200,000 monthly visits to your site, 20,000 newsletter subscribers) - Total: $471/month
    • WP Engine: $242/month
    • Mailchimp: $200/month
    • Memberful: $25/month
    • WordPress theme: ~$4/month

Keep in mind, this is just the cost for running the technology of your website and doesn’t take into account the cost to pay yourself or others to write content! But based on these numbers and tools like the Google AdSense calculator, you should be able to get a pretty good idea of what it will take to build a sustainable business around a news website.

Want more info on technology for building communities?

We are planning additional content coming soon so be sure to subscribe to our mailing list.