WordPress.com parent Automattic has announced a new publishing platform for news sites, designed to help small to medium-sized publications generate more revenue.

The initiative, which is called Newspack by WordPress.com, is launching in partnership with News Revenue Hub and Spirited Media. Interestingly, Newspack is backed by $2.4 million in funding from some big names, including Google, through the Google News Initiative that launched last March — Google actually contributed half the funds. Other contributors include the Lenfest Institute for Journalism ($400,000), ConsenSys ($350,000), and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation ($250,000). Another as-yet-unnamed source is expected to throw in an additional $200,000 later this month.

This funding will be used to see the project through its first year of operations.

Obstacles

WordPress needs little introduction — it is now thought to power at least 30 percent of the web, though this includes both the non-hosted open source blogging software available through WordPress.org and the for-profit hosted WordPress.com platform.

WordPress in its various forms is already used by many major publications, in addition to millions of sites run by individuals and local publishers, but with Newspack, Automattic is targeting smaller news outlets that may “struggle with the complexities of technology selection, development, maintenance, hosting, and security,” according to a press release. Indeed, throw all these obstacles together, and it becomes just that bit more difficult to create a solid and sustainable business.

“Local news organizations are struggling to find sustainable models for journalism — a crisis that has very real implications for democracy,” noted WordPress.com president Kinsey Wilson. “We’re joining with industry leaders to bring technology, publishing, and business expertise together in a single platform that can be shared by news organizations across the globe.”

The Newspack platform itself is still very much in pilot mode, and it’s not expected to launch — even as a beta proof-of-concept product — until July 2019, when it will be used by around a dozen websites. But from now until February 1, applications are being accepted from a wide range of publications, spanning audiences, geographies, and models. Automattic said it will prioritize outlets that have previously demonstrated “editorial and financial success” in their respective markets, though fledgling news startups will also be considered if they have a “strong launch plan.”

It’s worth noting here that Automattic already offers the premium WordPress VIP service, which is an enterprise-grade offering optimized for security and scalability, but that is aimed at larger websites and the cost runs into tens of thousands of dollars a month.

Details about exactly what the Newspack platform will offer are still a little scant. But Automattic says it will combine “the best editorial and business practices” from across the publishing industry.

The development period will run through January 2020, at which point it’s expected to open to around 60 news outlets. The prelaunch phase will be funded entirely by Automattic and its donors — once that period expires, publications can expect to pay somewhere in the region of $1,000 to $2,000 each month.

“Our hope with Newspack is to give [publications] a platform where they can continue to focus on what they do best, while we focus on providing world-class technology and support across their editorial and business operations,” added Automattic editor Mark Armstrong.