Growing reader revenue in Malaysia

Growing reader revenue in Malaysia
Photo: Mukhriz Hazim / Malaysiakini

The work

Malaysiakini is a pioneering media organization founded in 1999 by two Malaysian journalists, Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan, as Malaysia’s first independently owned online news site. In 2002, Malaysiakini received an investment from MDIF and MDIF has remained an investor ever since and has also provided periodic technical support to Malaysiakini through Media Advisory Services (MAS), our management capacity-building unit.

Among the wide range of activities and interventions, support for reader revenue is particularly noteworthy. Malaysiakini launched its first subscription offering in 2002 when no other media companies in Malaysia were doing so and where it was regarded as an extremely risky strategy. Advertising overtook subscriptions as the major contributor to the site’s bottom line only in 2012. However, in the face of the pandemic-induced decline in advertising revenue in 2020, the focus has shifted back to increasing reader revenue.

To assist the company, MAS engaged an expert in reader revenue and consumer monetization. The mentorship concentrated on accelerating reader revenue growth through the review and performance benchmarking of the subscription strategy. This included workshop-style action planning, assistance with strategy implementation, individual manager coaching and topic-specific team presentations.


  • The intensive mentorship and workshops helped to drive the adjustments to the subscription offer. Malaysiakini built a promo code system, reduced churn and smoothed payment flow. The company launched a new check-out flow, making it much simpler to complete, reduced login errors and made reoccurring payments easier.
  • Malaysiakini also adjusted their membership offer, driving more people towards longer contracts that bring in more cash and improve customer retention. Following the mentor’s advice, it made a 3-year subscription the default choice and did away with a 1-month subscription.
  • The mentor also showed them how newsletters can be instrumental in creating a habit and how to engage subscribers in the first 100 days after the conversion, making them unlikely to unsubscribe. With that in mind, Malaysiakini increased participation from the editorial team to drive subscriptions and launched a new weekly newsletter.
  • Between 2019 and 2022, Malaysiakini increased the number of active subscribers by 26%, while its subscription revenue grew by 74%. The overall revenue distribution transitioned from a predominant reliance on advertising, moving closer to the longer-term strategic goal of decreasing dependence on advertising revenue.
  • Over the years, Malaysiakini has expanded its operations and staff as its influence and readership increased. Starting with a modest team of six, the organization has burgeoned to employ more than 100 dedicated individuals. From the time of the first MDIF investment, Malaysiakini has expanded its reach 100-fold and revenue by 67-fold. This impressive trajectory has solidified Malaysiakini’s position as one of the foremost independent news sources in the country.

[The mentor] turned out to be a walking encyclopedia on just about every aspect of subscription … Using his insights and with the hard work from our membership and engineering teams, we revamped how we presented our membership offer. Combined with Malaysiakini’s news coverage of the year’s political dramas, our reader revenue outperformed expectations. What was looking like a disaster, turned positive. We were able to retain all our staff, avoid the industry-wide retrenchments and even give a little extra to the team at year-end.

Premesh Chandran, Malaysiakini founder and Former CEO