In May of 2017, Bill Simmons, former ESPN personality and creator of The Ringer, made an interesting decision to move his successful sports media empire to Vox Media. Simmons maintained editorial independence but relied on Vox for all the non-content creation requirements of a traditional publisher. This included all revenue and product development because as Simmons said “they are great at sales and technology.” The plan, it seems, was to offload the “publishing” part of the publishing business. This allowed Simmons to focus on content creation for his widely popular podcast and website.
This wasn’t a viable model 20 years ago when publishers had established oligopolies by controlling distribution in their respective geographic regions. As a result, the publishing needs of the business, HR, printing press, sales, and distribution existed to support editorial and content creation. Now that the internet has driven distribution costs to near $0, and oligopolies no longer exists, there is little need to combine traditional publishing sales, product and HR overhead with the journalism it is intended to support.
Even so, content creations like Simmons still need to make money. To do so, they rely on content management platforms like Chorus, the purpose-built platform Vox created to manage content and revenue. As of July, Chorus supported 350 media brands. The system includes “content management, data-informed multi-platform content distribution, integrated advertising, and a suite of publishing tools.” Media brands that strip away activities not directly related to content creation establish a sustainable model that allows them to create even more great content, a reinforcing cycle of success.
In his May 2017 post, Ben Thompson covered the changing business model while referring to platforms like Vox’s as the “Faceless Publisher.” The platform handles all the monetization, resources, and infrastructure, which allows journalists to focus on creating amazing content.
The term “Faceless Publisher” might be a misnomer in Vox’s case given they have established several great brands in the market including SB Nation, Vox and Eater. However, it is clear that this federated group of journalistic brands, supported by a single business platform, creates great efficiencies. This efficiency will deliver what readers and content creators need: a sustainable business model that delivers amazing content.