Charlotte Squire is the irrepressible optimist who has been living and breathing online magazine Happyzine for the past five years – Squire calls it "solutions focused journalism".
Happyzine brings its audience green and upbeat news stories, and they recently switched to a pay-what-you-can-afford business model.
Squire launched Happyzine as an altruist, rather than a businesswoman, which has lead to considerable challenges over the past five years, particularly securing a viable revenue stream.
“I've tried it all – online courses, advertising and sponsorship, PR and more. I've put thousands of hours into Happyzine,” she says.
On June 1 Happyzine introduced a pay-what-you-can-afford honour system to generate some financial support.
The pay-what-you-can-afford model has worked in high-profile cases, such as Radiohead’s release of album In Rainbows, and the runaway success of Kickstarter and PledgeMe funding, but is it really a sustainable option for an online magazine?
Around two to three percent of Happyzine's visitors – of which 33 percent are returning – are paying for content. And Squire says they're currently running a campaign to bump this up to 10 percent. To put this in perspective, Happyzine receives approximately 3,000 unique visitors each month.
They have a suggested scale of financial contributions on the website, which ranges from $1 per week to $7 per week.
"Some people are very generous," says Squire. "And there's not always clear relationship between income scale and their contribution, for example some students, who absolutely love Happyzine, are our most generous contributors."
Those contributing financially will become members of Club Happyzine and will receive a weekly 'ezine', which will also include exclusive giveaways. Non-members will receive an abridged ezine.
Later in the year, Squire has plans to transform Happyzine into a membership website; Club Happyzine members will have full access to the website, while non-members' access will be limited.
The next goal for Happyzine is strengthening their community and building relationships with their audience, who Squire says are people "refusing to compromise their environmental ideals, or their love for community". Plans include launching a discussion forum, and running community workshops, talks and collaborative projects.
Doom and gloom often has an easier task of attracting an audience – is there sufficient enthusiasm for stories with a positive spin? Squire believes there is.
“I think people often go looking for something positive and inspiring and they find Happyzine. These are the people who simply don't read the newspapers or watch TV any more because they refuse to engage with some of these dramatic stories that quite obviously are designed to sell media. [...] We love publishing stories that illustrate successful models of people who are carving out their dreams in an environmentally and socially positive manner.”
With projects on the website such as Emily Harris’s Urban Pantry, a rooftop garden initiative, and complementary currency HANDS (How About a Non Dollar System), there are plenty of positive stories to tell.
What remains to be seen is whether the audience for "solutions focused journalism" will translate into dollars that can support Happyzine's future.