Malaysiakini, Malaysia

Digitally driven force of change

Mkini newsroom 2 is Malaysia’s most important – and most read – news website. Launched in 1999 by two dedicated journalists seeking to provide an alternative to the all-pervasive pro-establishment media, for many years it was the sole independent news source in the country.

Unable to get a newspaper publishing licence, Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan took advantage of a loophole in the country’s repressive media laws and began to publish online – within eight months of launch Malaysiakini’s readership reached 100,000 visitors a day.

After the dotcom bubble burst and online advertising dried up, MDIF helped Malaysiakini reassess their business model. With the help of a loan and strategic advice, in 2003 they switched to a subscription-based model which kept some of the most important articles freely accessible but hid others behind a paywall. There was an immediate increase in revenue and this has continued to grow over time, enabling Malaysiakini to thrive in the only medium that allows it to maintain its editorial independence.

As a purely digital business, Malaysiakini constantly works to stay at the forefront of technology. But the real driver for business is that it has made itself indispensable to the Malaysian people. In the lead-up to the ground-breaking 2008 general election, Malaysiakini took down the paywall and provided reliable non-partisan information about all candidates free of charge – information that was unavailable anywhere else.

During the 2008 elections it became the country’s most popular website – a position it has maintained. Malaysiakini now has 2 million monthly unique users in four languages – English, Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil – and more than 30 million page views each month. On election night in May 2013, Malaysiakini broke all records: more than 4.3 million unique users visited the site on election night and, at the height of the vote count, the site’s readership hit 500,000 users per minute.

Although the 2008 elections weakened the ruling party’s grip on power, Malaysiakini continues to face intimidation, including repeated cyberattacks. But each time it does, it makes Prem and Steven more committed to achieving full financial sustainability. They know that long-term editorial independence is the best way of providing Malaysians with news and opinions that can be found nowhere else.

Navigate through our timeline of Malaysiakini’s development from humble start-up to the most-visited political news site in the country, and find out what were the most important strategic decisions that turned it from a site looking for a business model to an icon of digital journalism.

Read Steven’s views on the importance of financial sustainability and the challenges they have faced along the way.