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Setopati’s one year

Monday, June 9th, 2014
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Success of digital-only portal indicates that online media has attained  critical mass in Nepal

The biggest surprise about a new portal a year after it started is not that it has 400,000 users per month, but that it is a shoestring operation run out of an improbable hole-in-the-wall office in Jhamsikhel.

Ameet Dhakal with his technical manager at the Setopati office in Jhamsikhel earlier this month.

Ameet Dhakal with his technical manager at the Setopati office in Jhamsikhel earlier this month.

When asked how many people are logged in to setopati.com at that moment, founder editor Ameet Dhakal whips out an iPad to confirm that more than 465 people all over the world are reading the portal even as we speak. We notice that Dhakal’s iPad has seen better days, its touchscreen is cracked and taped up.

“We don’t have deep pockets, we have no pockets,” quips Dhakal. “I could have bought a new tablet, but this one still works.”

Indeed, in the brave new world of digital media setopati.com is turning everything on its head. It has shown that you don’t need massive investment, there is no gestation period for startups, and journalists can be their own bosses.

Dhakal had worked before in The Kathmandu Post and helped start Republica but quit after differences with publishers. He joined up with like-minded editors like Narayan Wagle and Yubaraj Ghimire to launch Setopati on 1 April 2013.

Having seen the potential for online media in Nepal in their previous job, and convinced that they didn’t want to work for anyone anymore, Dhakal and Wagle decided to start a Nepali news portal with serious, exclusive and investigative content in longform journalism format.

“If we had started a newspaper, we would never have got this kind of readership within one year,” says Dhakal, “and all journalists need readers.”

Whereas a popular story in the print media would be read by 20,000 people at most, Setopati’s most read story by Kamala Thapa about her botched delivery at a maternity hospital got 325,000 readers and nearly 24,000 shares on Facebook. A profile of heart surgeon Bhagwan Koirala by Binita Dahal was read by 125,000 people in the first week of publication.

“I could never have got that kind of readership when I was working for Nagarik,” Dahal, who used to be a Setopati reporter and is now with BBC Nepali, said.

With the number of Facebook users approaching 4 million and 400,000 on Twitter, Nepal now has a critical mass of online users. Low startup costs mean that new portals are sprouting all over the place. Mainstream media also have digital editions, although in many cases their sites are just dumping ground for print content.

Ameet Dhakal with his iPad.

Ameet Dhakal with his iPad.

Setopati has tried to ride this digital wave, and has managed to prove wrong a lot of assumptions about online media. Says Dhakal: “Setopati is proof that you don’t need multimedia content or light sensational news to attract readers.”

Even the readership breakdown indicates that Setopati users in the diaspora are more high-brow than other popular entertainment and gossip-driven portals. The Gulf countries and Malaysia are not among Setopati’s top ten countries: it is Nepalis in the US, Australia, UK, South Korea and Japan who login most frequently.

The most pressing challenge for the portal is to make the venture sustainable. There is virtually no advertising on Setopati, including from Google Adsense since the portal is in Nepali. Dhakal is planning on launching an aggressive marketing drive to cash in on the eyeballs, and perhaps even a voluntary subscription model in future. He doesn’t rule out accepting donor funding.

Says Damakant Jayshi of Panos South Asia and Dhakal’s former colleague at Republica: “Setopati is refreshing, it is doing what Nepali language journalism sorely lacked: perspective and analysis. It is a must-read portal for me, but needs to expand its coverage.”

Setopati spent its first year maximizing readers, which it did successfully. The reason Setopati hasn’t spent resources on augmenting content with video and images is because of low bandwidth in Nepal, Dhakal explains, but all that could change with the spread of 4G enabled mobile platforms. “We want to earn our readers, not buy them,” he adds.

The name ‘setopati’ (which means whiteboard) came about by chance as the original team was at a brainstorming retreat and discussing possible names for the portal, as it turns out, on a whiteboard.

But perhaps the most telling measure of setopati.com’s success is not the surprising number of readers it has amassed so fast, but that it has so many copycats with names like ‘ratopati‘ and the soft porn site ‘nilopati‘. Imitation, after all, is the best form of flattery.

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3 Responses to “Setopati’s one year”

  1. Suman on Says:

    How easily people like Kunda are duped.

    Setopati’s most read story by Kamala Thapa about her botched delivery at a maternity hospital got 325,000 readers and nearly 24,000 shares on Facebook.

    Setopati does not display viewers count publicly, so that was exaggerated claim. The truth about 24K shares can be cheked here, Its only 3.5 K http://muckrack.com/whoshared/? url=http%3A%2F%2Fsetopati.com%2Fblog%2F5117%2F


  2. Sabin on Says:

    It seems like success can not be assessed just in the numbers and popularity. Especially in media. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glen Beckk, Bill O’ Reilly have the most audience and most earnings in America media. But a candid assessment of all of these people is: they are idiots and bigots. Their presence in history will only be to exemplify what low is and what not to aspire to be.

    The main question would be is Setopati living unto an integrity and quality. What has it done to advance our civilization, in particular Nepali one.


  3. netra on Says:

    ” but that it has so many copycats with names like ‘ratopati‘ and the soft porn site ‘nilopati‘. Imitation, after all, is the best form of flattery.”

    What do you have to say about the design/concept of Setopati similar compared to Huffington post? Is it wrong to say that setopati is a clone of Huffington Post? Now Seto pati changed its color to blue, but it was green before.


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