Japan’s Nordot is building a common publishing platform to unite media outlets — and lower their costs.

Common plumbing is exactly what the media industry needs. This Japanese startup thinks it has the right solution.

By Tim Hornyak
Splice Japan

(Updated to correct the number of stories Nordot publishes from 50,000 to 500,000.)

Social media remains a dominant source of news for consumers in many countries, outpacing newspapers in 2018 in the U.S., where 45% of people get news from Facebook. News providers need any edge they can get to compete in a time of declining profitability and fake news.

It’s no wonder, then, that outsourcing content management is now seen as an increasingly viable option for digital newsrooms.

Jesse Knight, who spent more than seven years building an international-first platform for Vice Media, recently called for a common publishing platform, arguing it would let outlets use their resources more strategically: “If companies can set aside their (considerable) differences and use a single publishing platform, they could collectively mount a winning fight against Facebook.”

Nordot is a Tokyo-based joint venture launched in April 2015 with backing from Japan’s biggest news companies, Kyodo News Digital and Yahoo Japan. It operates on exactly the kind of model Knight called for: a common publishing platform that offers more than 500,000 articles from hundreds of publishers in Japan.

Nordot's Ryutaro Nakase, right, and Yoshiaki Machi, left, are hoping to take their product global. Photo by Timothy Hornyak.
Nordot's Ryutaro Nakase, right, and Yoshiaki Machi, left, are hoping to take their product global. Photo by Timothy Hornyak.

Connecting providers with distributors

Nordot brings together content providers and distributors so that both can minimize costs, and has just launched an English-language version of its website.

Major outlets can source news at no cost while smaller publishers can reach a far larger audience, with both ends earning ad revenue, according to Nordot. The startup says the Kumamoto Nichinichi Shimbun, a regional newspaper in southern Japan, doubled its ad revenue per story by using Nordot while growing its audience and brand recognition.  

“This is a completely new platform and there’s no other service like this in Japan or overseas,” says Ryutaro Nakase, founder and CEO of Nordot. “It can bring together producers and distributors, which have been separate, in a new form of media.”

In a demonstration at Kyodo News in Tokyo, Nakase showed how a local newspaper in Kyushu, southern Japan, could search for popular topics in Japanese media such as articles about movies, sports and pets. Adding the results to a feed or website was a simple matter of a few clicks.

“It can be difficult for smaller content providers or distributors to work with more powerful ones, for instance a smaller regional newspaper might face major hurdles in selling its articles to Japan’s biggest news aggregator websites,” says Nakase.

“Our platform can help correct this imbalance. In addition, users don’t have to negotiate about content sharing and ad revenue.”

Some 400 publishers are already on Nordot, most of which are major regional newspapers in Japan. Photo by Timothy Hornyak.
Some 400 publishers are already on Nordot, most of which are major regional newspapers in Japan. Photo by Timothy Hornyak.

Growing regional and international appeal

Nordot says its platform already has some 6 million readers. About 400 publishers are using the platform, the majority of which are regional newspapers in Japan such as the Kyoto Shimbun, Kobe Shimbun and Hokkaido Shimbun.

Other users include major media brands Quartz and Huffpost, sports and entertainment sites like Rakuten NBA News and Cinema Today, as well as websites focused on foreign cities such as New York and Macau.

Providers can store their content on Nordot’s cloud service in CMS, RSS and API formats. Editors can then search for and select what they want to include on their sites, apps or social media. Content can also be automatically uploaded once keywords are chosen.

When users click on a preview, articles and graphics will appear in a pop-up under Nordot’s domain with the provider’s brand at the top, links to the provider’s site and social media accounts, as well as a slew of suggested articles at the bottom.

Revenue from the ads that appear under the articles is allocated 61.8% to content providers and 38.2% to distributors, but if no distributors are involved it all goes to providers. Providers can also act as distributors, in which case they get 38.2%. Nordot takes a 19% fee at the end.

Building a ‘collective newsroom’

A former journalist, Nakase founded Nordot after working at business publisher Nikkei BP, Yahoo Japan and Kyodo. He wanted to create a “collective newsroom” that could offer a more equitable balance of large and small players in the content business.

Kyodo agreed to invest in the Nordot concept with an 85% share, and Yahoo Japan putting in 15%. The company now has about 10 staff across Japan, the U.S. and Malaysia. In a rare setup for a Japanese startup, Nordot has no offices and, aside from occasional meetings, all work is done online.

“We have a very small team but we were able to build this cloud service to offer many benefits to users,” says Nordot chief technology officer Yoshiaki Machi.

With its new English-language site, Nordot is now focused on growing English-language publishers and increasing its presence outside Japan. Its new model couldn’t come at a more critical time for smaller content providers.

“There’s a sea of media outlets and bloggers in the web age, and as ads are also ubiquitous, ad revenues have declined,” says Nakase.

“It’s inefficient for publishers to try to do everything themselves. Meanwhile they have to try to compete with massive, powerful news distributors like Google and Yahoo.

“That’s why it’s best for publishers to cooperate. We’ve developed our model to further that cooperation.”

Tim Hornyak is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo. He is the author of Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots. Follow Tim Hornyak on Twitter.

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