The Australian economy, indeed the world’s, is about to go through one of the most dramatic changes since the industrial revolution. At least, that’s the bet behind this week’s entrant to the Crikey New Kid on the Block series profile media start-ups.

RenewEconomy is an online-only niche publication that has as its tagline “tracking the next industrial revolution”. It is only weeks old, having been founded by Giles Parkinson, until recently the leading light in Climate Spectator.

Parkinson is a former business editor and deputy editor of the The Australian Financial Review, and has been a columnist for The Bulletin and The Australian. He started RenewEconomy, he says, because he wanted to found a publication in the same field as Climate Spectator, but in which he had personal equity and personal control.

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The goal of the site, he says, is “to discuss the ideas, analyse the trends, the new technologies and the policies that will drive this transformation”. And despite the fact that his business model presently involves “taking a very deep breath”, he insists that he is confident and excited about the potential.

There are two target audiences: people who are directly  involved in the low carbon economy, and those at least engaged and interested in developments.

Is this audience sufficient to sustain a specialist publication? Parkinson says there are many potential advertisers who need to reach these audiences, from transport and new technology industries, through to internet and telco-based companies.

He aims to keep the news service free to the user, and is confident it can be sustainable on an advertising revenue basis in the long term. The figures for the site are encouraging so far. He claims 20,000 unique viewers in the last month, covering weeks three to seven of the site’s life, and 60,000 clicks from the email newsletter.

The strength of the site so far, compared with other niche publications, is that most of the content is original, and delves with specialist knowledge into news that the mainstream media tend to ignore as too hard, or too specialised.

Take this column by Parkinson summarising two recent studies on how our economy is exposed as a result of a too easy reliance on cheap and reliable electricity. Writes Parkinson:

One study, by the University of Queensland and the Global Change Institute, suggests that Australia’s power system is among the least resilient in the world — even compared to other resource-rich nations such as Canada and Brazil — and presents a risk for consumers and investors alike.

“The second report, prepared by The Climate Institute in conjunction with US industrial giant General Electric, finds that Australia is now ranked 16th among G20 countries in terms of the ability to prosper in a low-carbon economy, and is the only country to have gone backwards since 1995.”

There is also news on clean energy retailer TRUenergy, the NSW energy industry and predictions on the future of the solar industry, and plenty more besides.

Parkinson must be wearing his fingertips to the bone with the amount of writing on the site. He promises it will be updated daily, and contain 80% of content that is not published elsewhere — although the site also includes an aggregation of other articles on the web of relevance to its target audience.

As for advertising, there are sponsored links from SIM Venture Securities Exchange, DMG Media Marketing and ads for the forthcoming Alternative Futures Conference. A few weeks in, Parkinson says advertising revenue is covering his costs, which include a  part-time writer, Paul Gilding. Advertising sales are done on commission. But he is not yet paying himself a salary, and so far has no budget for contributor payments. He is looking for co-investors.

But interest in the field can only grow, he says, confident that when his deep breath runs out there will be plenty of oxygen.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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