Digital publishers see rays of hope as they continue to monetize premium content, transform business strategies, maximize technology investments, and increase revenue diversification. Just over two-thirds (69%) of digital publishers expect to see an overall revenue growth in 2020 according to a new report, Publishers Bullish on Talent, Tech and Growth in 2020, from Folio. Of those publishers expecting revenue growth, a quarter anticipate double digits. Only 4% of participants expect revenues to decline. This research is based on 182 surveyed industry professionals accompanied by eight in-depth executive interviews.
Respondents report the top three categories for revenue
growth are digital advertising including branded content (58%), live events
(43%), and marketing services (38%). In addition to revenue growth, audience
growth is also expected in 2020. Twenty-eight percent of publishers expect a
10% growth in audience while more than one-third (36%) expect single-digit
Audience development is more than just chasing clicks on digital platforms. It’s about learning your business ecosystem and how the pieces work together. Executives cite email (54%), social media (53%), and events (44%) as the strongest performers for audience development.
Publishers recognize the need to invest in the video side (35%) of their business as well as back end technology and operation systems (34%) for content management and advertising businesses. Publishers, especially traditional magazine businesses, see video as a very lucrative way to reinvent their content strategy and distribution model with attractive advertising packages at high CPMs.
Catherine Levene, President, Chief Digital Officer of Meredith Corporation, participated in Folio’s executive interviews. Meredith charted its course in preparation for 2020. Levene said Meredith is keenly focused is on innovation. This includes technology investments, including a new content management system and a first-party data and insights platform.
She also mentioned Meredith’s investments in video
production and distribution and new content-to-commerce capabilities. Levene sees
a win-win for their audience and advertisers, “We are creating content and
experiences that drive engagement and are offering predictive advertising that
achieves results for our marketing partners.”
Erin O’Mara, President of The Nation, also participated in the executive interviews. O’Mara described the digital business as more than just a website, it’s about super-serving the audience. A new initiative, “The Nation Classroom,” uses their archives to create robust teaching modules for high school student. The goal for this project is to be profitable as well as to make available to schools that cannot afford it. O’Mara see this initiative as an important step to extend a brand experience through community outreach.
As Folio’s research suggests, there is no time digital media
brands to standstill. It’s essential for media companies to take the steps to identify
the key business and audience strategies and investment in them.
the dawn of the new decade of 2020, DCN members gathered at the Mandarin
Oriental Miami January 16 and 17 to network, discuss victories and challenges
as media companies evolve, and explore industry predictions.
new decade calls for a perfect ‘20/20’ vision, said Jason Kint, CEO, Digital
Content Next as he kicked off the closed-door, off-the-record gathering. That
encompasses continued focus on audience desires, pushback against the myth that
all content has to be free, and the elevation of trust and transparency in an
era marked by ‘fake news’.
Union’s recently enacted copyright law is a win for the industry, with similar
discussions expected this year in the U.S, noted Kint. Federal and state
investigations as well as emerging regulations are all good signals toward protecting
consumer privacy, regulating data use and anti-trust concerns, notes Kint.
can also expect a steady rise in content investments. UBS estimates that in
2020, a combined 16 media firms will spend $100 billion to produce content.
More than $35 billion will allocated on streaming video content, as new players
such as Disney Plus and NBC’s Peacock emerge.
feeling really good this year about where things are headed,” said Kint.
Jim Bankoff, CEO, Vox Media said he valued being at the DCN Summit. He described it as a place where premium publishers come together to “find ways to partner and to check our healthy, competitive impulses … and figure out ways to work together” in the wake of ceding ground to third party big tech platform and ad network “that have proven time and again not to have our best interests in mind.”
journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who freelances for the Guardian and Observer,
captivated the audience by recounting her experiences unearthing the activities
of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for
her work, which sparked international investigations as well as inspiring the
Netflix documentary, ‘The Great Hack’.
was my introduction to this world of creepy disinformation, but also complete
reluctance from the platforms to even acknowledge the problem, let alone deal
with it,” she noted. She was instead subjected to legal pushback from Google
and Facebook as well as online bullying.
also called for media companies to not compete against each other. Instead, she
encouraged those in the room to join together to “compete against lies and
falsehoods. We’ve seen it in Britain and you’re next,” said Cadwalladr.
Galloway, professor, NYU Stern School of Business, said
he believes that the big tech companies on the antitrust radar should be
broken up. Monopolies kill economic growth and are a “key step to tyranny,” he
contended, adding a co-opted government can’t serve as a dominating force for
pointed out that efforts to regulate the behavior of big tech fines have been
largely ineffectual. To date, the fines haven’t been punitive enough to
dissuade the big tech companies to modify behavior, he said. He also criticized
the federal government for being slow to act.
Monetization and concerns about subscription fatigue were recurring themes at the summit. Yet DCN research shows that younger audiences in particular appreciate the value of a subscription and finds that there is still consumer appetite for subscription products.
Peretti, founder and CEO, Buzzfeed noted that over the course of a few short
years, the company has begun to generate significant revenue from Facebook,
Google, Amazon, and Netflix from licensing.
don’t think Facebook or Google wants to buy news companies,” said Peretti. Of
the platforms movement toward paying for content, he said that “They get the
benefit of sharing some of the costs of the production of that content. News is
a great way to direct repeat visitors and to build trust in the platform to
avoid some of the problems of misinformation.”
Turpin II, president, National Journal, noted his longstanding publication adapted
to the changing media landscape by transforming itself from a media company to government
research and consulting services company for which subscribers are willing to
pay premium prices.
VandeHei, co-founder and CEO, Axios; Executive Producer, AXIOS on HBO said, “you
have to deliver content in a way that I would deliver in a conversation with
you over a drink, like what is new.” However, to create value, “Tell me why it
matters. Give me some context. Give me the power to go deeper.”
Complex, the path to success hasn’t been simple. Rich Antoniello, CEO and founder,
Complex Networks said, “we call ourselves a brand that happens to monetize
through media.” He said his company shifted from an ad-dependent model in 2016,
ahead of the curve.
example is the wild success of its “Hot Ones” program. It features10 questions
of its celebrity guests that get progressively more personal along with the consumption
of hot sauce that gets progressively hotter. And the business model is based
not on advertising, but on the sales of high-margin hot sauce.
also outlined the success of ComplexCon, the company’s flagship event, which connects
cultural icons with fans who spend $100 to $700 for VIP tickets, with hundreds
of thousands sold. Fans also snap up merchandise from Complex and its app-based
vendors such as Nike and Adidas.
power of fandom arose again when Howard Mittman, CEO, Bleacher Report spoke of
how his company’s app and successful franchises attract sports fans. He
described how individual athletes hold more sway in their fandom habits than sports
10 million fans have signed up for alerts and the app accounts for half of the
company’s user engagement. Bleacher Report’s focus is not on breaking sports
news, but creating engagement on its own platforms, according to Mittman.
continues to go through cultural shifts toward diversity both in company
staffing and in targeting readership such as women. “Women are generally not
seeing themselves in media and advertising to the extent that they should be,”
said Catherine Levene, president, chief digital officer, Meredith National
have been the first to support #SeeHer, a national organization committed to
accurate representation of women in media and advertising,” she said. She added
that’s not only good for supporting women, but also for the bottom line. Women
who see themselves in media and advertising are 45% more likely to recommend a product
to a friend and purchase it, said Levene.
the controversy it has attracted by those who question the veracity of its
science, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand is growing, noted Elise Loehnen, chief
content officer. The platform embraces several media forms and covers topics
from relationships to health, including alternative therapies. She said that
the controversy has been good for keeping the brand at the forefront of popular
tired of being talked down to,” said Loehnen. “We’re a strong female brand
undisturbed by the chaos.”
Tobaccowala, chief growth officer, Publicis Group,noted that the only
way to get ahead as a legacy company is to “kill your core. You have to rethink
your entire business.”
Levene from Meredith believes that the mobile world and 5G will create an even greater market for video. And, with 50% of searches conducted on the more than 200 million voice-enabled devices in U.S. homes, opportunities and challenges will arise.
action to purge third-party cookies against the backdrop of GDPR and CCPA will
impact the entire digital ecosystem, Levene noted.
is going to be the currency of the future. Those who have it at scale and the
ability to drive a lot of insights from it are going to win,” she added.
In a social media environment that is being blamed for everything from decreasing personal contact to radicalizing disaffected youth and intensifying suicide rates among girls, Tatyana Mamut, head of product, Nextdoor, made the case that her platform is creating connections on a micro-level in a neighborhood at a time when people hardly know their neighbors
believe that kindness is the next big thing in tech,” she added.
Alto journalism educator Esther Wojcicki made the case that helicopter
parenting has impacted the workforce and its ability to embrace risk and
innovation. She calls for parenting – and management – to embrace trust,
respect, independence, collaboration and kindness. She also promotes the idea
that every student should take a journalism course to build media literacy skills.
future will be fraught with change. And as Tobaccowala pointed out, “human
beings know how difficult change is.” But to survive, media companies must
continue to evolve.
have the power to shape minds and hearts, to fill the world with laughter and
tears to inform the truth,” said Kint. “Here’s to 2020 bringing the roar of the
crowd as we focus on what matters most: the audiences we serve.”
Mobile and social media received a lot of attention this last decade. Major media trends included fragmented attention, intermediated media, and growing distrust in journalism. So, what will the next 10 years present? The Reuters Institute once again looks at our past and evaluates emerging trends to forecast what’s ahead in media in its report, Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2020. Overarching themes for digital media in the next decade center on internet regulation, the re-establishment of trust in journalism, and creating a closer connection with the audience.
In addition, the report includes key trends and predictions for 2020 (see full report for the entire list).
1. The media business looks good; journalism less so.
The media business has a positive outlook but not so for journalism itself. While media executives feel confident or very confident about their company’s prospects in 2020, they feel less so about journalism in general. Their confidence for the media business centers on reader revenue and paid content, stable and growing income while advertising remains unstable. Further, the media business looks strong while consolidation is expected to continue. The latest in consolidation is a focus on keeping the editorial voice of the brands acquired while integrating back-end tech and data systems.
leaders have mixed reviews for platforms.
Those surveyed are more positive about Google and Twitter than Apple, Facebook, Snapchat, and Amazon when it comes to initiatives to support journalism. Sixty percent of respondents rated Google as average or better while the other platforms were less favorable (it’s important to note that many publishers surveyed are currently or past recipients of Google innovation funds).
The overall sentiment from publishers regarding platforms is they want a level playing field where they can compete fairly and get proper compensation for their content and its value. Publishers in the EU are trying new intervention tactics to address these companies dominance. One example is the EU’s new copyright directive, aka the link tax. This policy requires platforms to pay for unlicensed content that appears in aggregated news services. France is the first member state to carry out the directive. Google reacted with displaying less content rather than pay. Courts will be deciding the next actions.
3. Reader revenue is a major focus for the new decade.
Executives believe reader revenue offers stable and growing income for news publishers. Half of those surveyed report that reader revenue is the most important revenue stream going forward. Subscriptions and memberships help publishers access reader information. In fact, many publishers rely on consumers login to their services for first party data. With new data tracking regulation in play and opt out ad-tracking browsers, publishers need to entice readers to register and login.
4. Audience growth, better
measurement and ease of access will continue the growth of podcasts.
By 2021, US podcasting revenue is projected to grow by approximately 30% a year to reach over $1 billion. New formats are being explored from the recognized interview and chat format to new documentary formats.
Bigger audiences, better measurement, and easier access have combined to change the economics of podcasting. This is encouraging publishers to invest in creating more quality content and platforms to invest in better distribution and monetization.
Overall, the report finds that digital publishers seek to diversify
revenue and strengthen user engagement with multiple touchpoints and products
in the decade ahead. Newsroom have the added challenge of modernizing their
presentation without compromising quality and trust and receiving proper
compensation from the intermediates. While many industry challenges continue,
publishers are well positioned to tackle these issues.
When you’ve been in the publishing business since 1857, you can rightfully say that you’ve learned a thing or two about longevity and how to make a product continually appealing to ever-changing consumers. The key to maintaining that allure today, apparently, is to make things look simple without losing your sophistication. For The Atlantic, that means taking an A-to-Z approach, beginning – literally – with a capital “A” and ending with a close eye on Gen Z, your future readers.
To better compete for eyeballs in an
increasingly digital world, the publication recently undertook a significant
redesign of its magazine, website, and iOS app and rolled out a new digital
subscription service. To support these initiatives, the brand made several
prominent new hires, including creative director Peter Mendelsund, senior art
director Oliver Munday, and director of photography Luise Stauss. And over the
past year, the product, engineering, and growth teams were doubled.
The results so far have been promising. September
and October both drew record numbers of subscribers—more than double the number
of subscriptions and revenue originally forecast. The website now tallies 30 million
unique visits monthly and the magazine boasts a paid circulation of 500,000.
And in the five days following the redesign rollout, The Atlantic had twice the
number of subscribers daily, on average, as there were in the same period
before the redesign.
New look, same savvy
Readers who visit the website or use the
app today will likely take instant note of the streamlined design and sparse
template at work. A bold red “A” logo has replaced the title’s previous iconic
emblem. The words stand out consistently in a clean new custom typeface. Clustered
or crowded content is a thing of the past thanks to a generous infusion of
white space. And the top navigation bar is a simplified element better served
by a hamburger menu icon in the upper left corner.
But what hasn’t changed, insists Adrienne
LaFrance, executive editor of The Atlantic, is the quality writing, diversity
of content, and journalistic integrity. “The way we will continue to stay
competitive is by showing people how we are different than other publications—reminding
them of our extraordinary writing, unmatched narrative journalism, beautiful
design, and photography,” she says.
“Were lucky because we have a really
differentiated and highly valuable product that people already love and have
loved for a long time. But it was time for a redesign, with a focus on giving
people the best possible user experience and helping them get to the best of
our work even more easily.”
First introduced in 2011, the improved iOS app (plans are afoot
to launch an Android version) is designed to function as a compact version of
the print magazine while retaining the cleanly legible look and unconstrained
feel of the website. A dedicated editorial team exclusively manages the app,
which has more carefully curated and diverse offerings for subscribers, thanks
in large part to its Today feed.
“The Today feed walks the reader through
what’s happening but gives them deeper context behind the news – stitching
together the larger patterns so people can derive meaning from the day’s
events. There’s a narrative arc there, not just a list of bullet points or
headlines. There’s definite value for people who want to come away with a complete
and rich sense of what’s going on in the world and why it matters,” LaFrance
explains. “You can choose how deeply you want to delve into the feed, whether
you want to read every single story or browse through it. The app and entire
feed are free. Where you encounter the need to subscribe is when you click
through to a particular article.”
LaFrance notes that the app and website
are two distinctly different products. The mobile experience is focused on
making it simple to brush up on the news of the day and discover articles of
interest to on-the-go users.
“We want to respect people’s time and
intelligence, and we understand that there are so many different options for
getting information and reading. We know people come to The Atlantic for
extraordinary journalism. And we want to make it easy and delightful for them
to experience our stories,” she adds.
While she couldn’t yet disclose numbers
post-revamp, LaFrance says that, historically, The Atlantic’s mobile app
audience was a fraction of its overall digital audience. Previously, “in any given
week, about three-quarters of subscribers who used our existing app came
three-plus times per week,” she notes.
New routes to
Simplifying the subscription model was
another priority. Now, readers can opt from three tiers:
annually, which includes unlimited access to TheAtlantic.com, the iOS app,
digital issues, and a subscriber-only newsletter);
Print and digital
($60 a year, which comes with the aforementioned plus delivery of 10 print
annually, for all of the above goodies plus exclusive access to podcasts,
ad-free web browsing, a complimentary digital gift subscription, Atlantic
product discounts, and priority access to exclusive events).
Subscriptions and print advertising serve as complementary pieces of the monetization pie (comprising approximately 20% of revenue). However, the lion’s share comes from digital advertising (45%). The remainder is derived from various sources, including live events (like The Atlantic Festival, Future of Work seminar, and Aspen Ideas Festival 2020).
“It’s actually a wonderful time to be a publisher because the incentives for the highest-quality journalism and what journalists want to make are aligned with what readers are willing to pay for. So, we can be incredibly ambitious knowing that the highest quality product is what people will want to subscribe to,” LaFrance says. “I think one of the reasons The Atlantic has remained so urgent and relevant for 162 years is that we’ve been really aggressive about diversifying revenue and one of the first media companies to demonstrate extraordinary skill in the live event space.”
That’s not to say the waters won’t be
“This is an intensely competitive
environment. That’s not just among publications and magazines but in the way
people spend their time nowadays – from Netflix to TikTok to Instagram to news
organizations. There is no other publication out there like The Atlantic, and
that’s why we’re having so much success with our subscriptions,” she continues.
“But the key for us going forward is making people understand what makes us
Eye on the horizon
LaFrance, who joined the company in 2014
and served as its website editor for years, lives by an important credo:
Nothing is guaranteed, especially in the world of digital publishing.
“No publication has a right to survive.
You have to really serve your readers. That means doing the best quality work
and finding the places where your readers are so that they can connect with
your journalism, fall in love with it, and keep coming back.”
While mum on the details, LaFrance hinted
that other exciting changes are coming soon to The Atlantic’s digital
offerings. Right now, her team is focused on further perfecting the digital
user’s experience and gauging reaction to the redesigns.
“We’ve done a lot of audience research and
looked closer at how people are finding our stories, what they like, and what
they are excited about on our site. All of that has been factored into our
editorial thinking process. So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly
positive, almost to the point where we’re waiting to learn what we can do
While advertising and subscription revenues are core to publishers’ bottom line, developing alternative revenue streams is critical in today’s competitive environment. One diversification approach, ecommerce, has evolved well beyond affiliate links and branded content. A new report from Whatsnewinpublishing.com, The Publisher’s Guide to eCommerce, written by Damien Radcliffe, explores emerging ecommerce opportunities and lessons learned from publishers. The report details 10 ecommerce examples from publishers. Some used third parties to implement their ecommerce initiative, while others are developing inhouse teams.
The right recipe
As the report points out, eCommerce is not easy work for a
publisher. They need to be thoughtful in identifying the benefits of brand
extensions and messaging this to the consumer. Importantly, product relevance
and quality must exist to build customer loyalty for any brand extension.
Tasty, BuzzFeed’s food brand, provides a great example of a
healthy brand extension that organically fits its brand with snack-size recipes
and videos. It successfully broadens the brand’s reach beyond its core site and
social media channels. Tasty products include cookbooks and kitchenware, and
even a partnership with McCormick Spices.
The report suggests that publishers stick close to their
wheelhouse. For example, there might be a lucrative business living within their
articles and photographs archives. The Denver Post and the The Seattle Times lead
strong ecommerce channels selling special events and news coverage clippings for
memorabilia, wall art, and keepsakes. Third parties are often used for the
fulfillment, creation and distribution of these products, which reduces some of
the publishers’ risks.
Social commerce is another interesting avenue for publishers
to keep in mind. GlobalWebIndex research finds that nearly 3 in 10 online
consumers say that researching and finding products online is one of the main
reasons they use social. These platforms offer an opportunity for publishers to
reach new and wider audiences.
As such, media analysts thought that social platforms would
provide an optimal environment for a publisher ecommerce marketplace. Unfortunately,
it hasn’t panned out just yet. However, Snap appears to offer a strong potential
for experimenting in ecommerce. The research emphasizes that it is critical
that publishers working to offer purchase opportunities on social strive for a
Regardless of the approach, the report reminds publishers
not to underestimate the cost and complexity of running an ecommerce division.
It’s like building a startup business: Technology investments will be required
(acquisition and fulfillment software) as well as those for merchandise and warehousing.
Challenges and rewards
First-party insights are important for a successful
ecommerce initiative. This is particularly critical in establishing a
correlation between the content the user engages into the product searches and
products the user buys. Creating this type of first- party relationship between
content and product will allow publishers to offer predictive analytics.
There are a multitude of ecommerce ideas for publishers to
experiment, from affiliate relationships to developing and selling proprietary
products. Importantly, each ecommerce opportunity must be evaluated carefully to
meet the necessary criteria to compliment the publisher’s brand. And publishers
must recognize the level of investment required to undertake a successful
People used to be loyal to a single publisher. They paid for the content then and there (or were longstanding subscribers). And they didn’t even notice stories from other publications. It’s frustrating that online content consumption hasn’t work in the same way. But the same system that brought about the democratization of online content also broke publisher loyalty.
Suddenly, consumers had access to numerous content platforms. The barriers to entry lowered and smaller, niche publications could reach a global audience, adding multiple views to the same angles. This meant people got used to judging by the story rather than by the publication.
Paywalls should work as a logical solution to monetizing online content. And paywalls do function as a way to pay for content. However, they don’t account for the way the majority of online users actually consume content. They can be an inflexible solution in an environment that changes daily.
That’s why publishers need to consider paywalls as one element of a wider monetization strategy.
Paywalls turn away 98% of users
The formula for consuming content used to be: Seek out a source of content you trust or enjoy—such as a newspaper. Now online content producers have to find, and fight for, audiences. Through media aggregation and search platforms, news competes with other versions of the same story for reader attention. Now users don’t have to choose just one publication and stick with it. Information is everywhere. This has led to to consumers having a distributed, fragmented web of content sources.
For hard paywalls to work as a primary monetization system, publishers must possess (or build) a formidable audience based upon a strong, trusted brand. Many readers will only pay for content they know they can’t get anywhere else. Major media brands have the resources to offer this. But even then, the many readers are going to look elsewhere for content, particularly if they hit a paywall and feel they can find good enough information for free.
Speaking at a publisher conference, Marfeel CEO, Xavi Beumala described the problem of scaling a paywall model. “Even in the US market of 330 million, the total amount of business you have for a subscription model is always capped. You can’t scale it ad infinitum.”
The generations that are loyal to a single media source are dying out. Subscriptions may work for the New York Times. However, the New York Times is using the fuel of the reputation it took 100 years to build (not to mention a significant investment in its technology and delivery). Without new readers experiencing the quality of their output, some question whether this model continue to sustain the brand for another 100 years.
Other media groups, such as The Guardian, have bucked the trend with a voluntary subscription basis that doesn’t wall-in content. This model relies on readers wanting to support the business and see it continue to operate. Again, brand strength and reader trust and value are big factors here.
Netflix for news
Content aggregation platforms represent a further hurdle for publishers that want to paywall their content. Several big tech companies have announced plans to deliver news and entertainment from multiple sources in their own subscription platforms.
While publishers will be able to negotiate payment rates that allow their paywall-segregated content to appear in aggregated content platforms, these deals will always favor the major tech companies over the publisher. It’s not hard to imagine these companies also downgrading search results or newsfeed positions for any content that has a paywall—that they don’t operate. Facebook, Apple, and Google don’t want to direct users to content or a search query only to have that user bounce back from a hard paywall.
The arrival of these news platforms also offers further competition to the paywall model, one that has a real chance to further disrupt publisher loyalty. Consumers may hedge their bets, possibly choosing to pay more to see content from multiple sources than tethering themselves to a single subscription.
Easy to get into, hard to get out
Google’s latest Chrome update was an example of how the ecosystem is built around a handful of major technology providers, and small changes can cause major disruption. The update in question prevented publishers from detecting if users are browsing in incognito mode.
Intended or unintended, the consequence of closing this loophole meant that many publishers’ metered paywalls were no longer effective. When readers hit their article limit they can switch to incognito mode and instantly reset their meter of free articles.
Publishers suddenly found that their paywall solution was ineffective, in one single stroke from Google.
A lack of resources to build technology means that some publishers bet all of their chips on a single strategy. And, for some publishers, paywalls represent a functional option with a guaranteed level of revenue.
But paywalls can be a blunt and imprecise tool. They cut off the majority and work for a minority. With a paywall, you often close the doors to new readers and rely on a core of hyper-engaged users. These readers are effectively paying for the loss in traffic that the paywall creates. It also insulates content in a world where sharing and exposure are the oxygen of publications.
Using different sources of technology, publishers are now able to deliver a layered monetization strategy that meets the needs of different readers, different content, and different stages of the engagement journey. Technology that implements programmatic, direct, paywall, subscription, micropayments and more will empower readers to build tailored packages. Like GDPR, readers will be able to select their preferences based on their needs.
A small percentage of readers will want (and pay for) a dedicated, personalized, ad-free experience. For these readers, a hard paywall with a personalized experience is the perfect solution. A far larger subsection of the audience will accept advertising in return for content that is free at the point of purchase.
Broad multitudes within this grey-area will sometimes pay, sometimes won’t. They won’t accept recurring transactions or fees and will need the process to be frictionless. For the first time, mid-size publishers will be able to out-pace major media groups that are forced to develop bespoke solutions, banking on only the most profitable.
More technology and monetization platforms are being democratized and made available to mid-sized publishers. With a sliding scale of monetization options, they will finally have the ability to reflect readers’ stage in the process, capture new traffic, and give readers options that will build a longer-lasting connection with their brand.
I recently connected with Christa Carone, who joined Group Nine Media as president in 2017, at the Collision Conference in Toronto, Canada. Carone, who came to the media side of the industry after leadership roles on the marketing and agency side, oversees Group Nine’s sales and marketing teams as well as its data insights group. Group Nine is a digital media holding company comprised of four popular digitally-native media brands Thrillist, The Dodo, Seeker, and NowThis. Carone and I discussed revenue and distribution diversification, content strategy, and building a business based on brand equity.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Michelle Manafy: Tell me a little bit about your content
distribution strategy and why you are all-in on social.
Christa Carone: Well, I’d say we’re all-in on omni
channel—and that includes social. Right now, we’re distributing content on over
20 different platforms. That includes Amazon Prime, Pluto, Roku, and distribution
deals with networks literally around the world. So, our approach to being
completely agnostic on distribution is that we want to bring our content to all
of the different places where people are spending their time. And we want that
to be a pretty frictionless experience. Instead of spending a ton of money to
get you to come to my website, I want to bring our storytelling to the place
where you are already hanging out.
Michelle Manafy: Truly connecting with audiences at
scale almost sounds like almost an oxymoron to me. What do you think?
Christa Carone: You can debate that content is king
and distribution is queen and whether they have an equal seat at the table. But
that’s really kind of how I look at it. When both are working together extremely
well, you are able to build successful brands like The Dodo, NowThis, Thrillist,
and Seeker. It’s like really honing-in on higher value content. We’re building
lifetime value of the content, what’s going to keep an audience interested, and
remain totally agnostic on the distribution strategy.
Michelle Manafy: The trick, of course, is the
monetization. The other side of a distributed model is fragmentation. So, talk
to me a little bit about how managing all of those channels ties into an overarching
Christa Carone: The beauty of our strategy is
diversification. I often say that if Facebook sneezes, we don’t want to catch a
cold. Just like in any industry, you don’t want to be overly dependent on one
particular revenue stream. It’s business 101. Media is no different than any
other type of business. So, that’s why we’ve been so focused on building
audiences across a number of different channels. We’re building audience on TikTok
right now. The monetization strategy there is nascent. But it’s going to come. IGTV
is another great example. We produce great content for IGTV and put it on IGTV
pre-revenue. But I have no doubt at all that Facebook is going to open up
monetization opportunities there. And I want to have established an audience when
Michelle Manafy: You mentioned diversification and that
every company should be focused on diversified revenue. I take it that Group
Nine that’s been baked in from the start.
Christa Carone: Keep in mind that we’re two years old. So, we’ve had the benefit of learning from a lot of traditional companies. And I often say: We’re not pivoting to anything. Some of our brands were born into video so there wasn’t a pivot to video. And the business model was already established. Some of our brands were social first. NowThis, in particular, was born as a social-first distributed brand. We didn’t pivot our business model from taking audience from owned and operated to distributing through external platforms.
Thrillist is the oldest of our brands and it has such a
loyal audience. So, we are looking at diversification around where we can take
the Thrillist brand and make it more of a whole-lifestyle brand.
Overall, our focus is on lifetime value for the content. So,
if we’re bringing in revenue with licensing, great. Bringing in revenue from
the syndication model, great. If we’re bringing in revenue by production deals
with OTT content providers, like a Netflix, that’s perfect. And if we are continuing
to bring in a healthy amount of revenue from advertising, wonderful. And increasingly
we’re thinking about how we can tap into other revenue streams like commerce and
Michelle Manafy: Could you tell me a little bit about
your commerce strategy?
Christa Carone: Our approach to commerce is really looking at brands like The Dodo and Thrillist and saying there’s intellectual property here. There’s a maniacally loyal fanbase. Can we be licensing The Dodo into product? The Dodo clearly has enough brand equity to be producing large scale consumer and canine events. Thrillist has been a friend to people for a long time. It is your recommendation action for food and beverage and travel. So, our ability to take that brand equity and bring it into commerce is already built in. And stay tuned: We will definitely be doing some more on that later this year and we just hired a head of ecommerce.
Michelle Manafy: So, you mentioned that maniacal
audience, that loyal audience. What’s the Group Nine secret? Because, as
publishers, that audience relationship is what differentiates us from the
Christa Carone: It’s such a credit to our editorial
teams. They know how weave a great narrative and tell an amazing story. It
sounds simple but I’m always amazed … A great example is from NowThis. Many
people are familiar with the NowThis video about Beto O’Rourke that went viral.
The raw footage of that video was already posted on Twitter. It already lived
on the Internet someplace. The NowThis team found it and was able to put it
through their storytelling lens. They said how can we construct it in such a
way that viewers are compelled to watch the entire piece? There is an art to
it. There is a narrative that was built in through the use of text on the
screen, through the use of effective editing so that we as the viewer were
compelled to watch it from start to finish. That is the secret sauce that
really exists within our editorial teams and applies to how we produce content
across all of our brands.
I would say the other massive factor for us is that scale
matters. We have such amazing insights that we’re able to glean from the
consumption of our videos that informs how we produce content. Based on our scale,
our data team is looking at 115,000 views of our content every minute. Every minute. We’ve built a very sophisticated
data engine that is able to pull in insights for things like the right color
for the text on the screen, the right size of font, the number of words that
should be on your screen, the fact that videos about dogs have three times
longer watch time than videos around cats. So, the editorial team can say maybe
that dog video should be three and a half minutes but maybe that cat videos
should just be two or something along those lines. You’re able to really start
to use these signals to inform your storytelling.
Michelle Manafy: So,
what’s your growth plan?
Christa Carone: Our business is really becoming much
more analogous to a TV buy. What I mean by that is that we have access to sell
all of the pre-roll against all of Group Nine content across all of the major
platforms. So, you have a television commercial and you are in, say, an auto
company and the pet owner is really interesting to you. You can come to us and
have 100 percent share of voice across all Dodo content on Facebook, on
Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat. You can buy our pre-roll on our channels and
transact that directly through Group Nine instead of the platforms. Brands are
responsive to it because of the importance of brand safety. When you have the
brand safety conversation with a marketer, you need to be able to say here’s
the right audience and it is against premium, brand safe content. It’s
fascinating to me that we’re having more conversations with TV buyers who are
shifting that investment from linear to wherever they can get eyeballs.
Michelle Manafy: I’m finding the distinction between television and all digital video is increasingly blurred, particularly for buyers.
Christa Carone: Completely. I think we have to redefine
what TV means. So, TV is not a device anymore. When the linear players, the
cable players start talking about TV everywhere, we’re in that boat. It
includes YouTube, it can arguably be IGTV, it could be lean-back viewing on
Facebook… It can be TikTok. How define TV going forward is going to be interesting.
Michelle Manafy: Talk to me about how you’re
innovating and how the industry needs to innovate.
Christa Carone: Maybe for some media companies,
diversification is innovative. It’s different at Group Nine because we were
born that way. We’ve learned so much from how past companies have run that we
know what we need to do as a media company. I feel like innovation is really
coming through how companies are able to scale intellectual property.
Christa Carone: I mean that’s been such an advantage
coming into a company like Group Nine. What I’m able to tap into is the
perspective of a marketer and think of everything we’re doing from the
perspective of the client. Will an advertiser really buy into this? I come from
companies with significant brand equity so I’m a massive believer in
intellectual property and that’s what appeals to me about Group Nine. these
aren’t four media companies. These are four brands. So: How can we look at
building brand equity that isn’t just about one particular revenue stream? That
has been super helpful to me to bring more of an innovative marketing approach
to building brands.
However, we find that many publishers continue to focus
investment on web while either treating their existing apps as side projects or
not developing an app presence at all. Given the rapid shift in consumer media
consumption and shift in the publisher landscape, combined with digital
dominance by the “duopoly” (and soon triopoly), the time is now for publishers
to prioritize their mobile app presence.
The mobile app user experience (and native apps in
particular) is superior to mobile web for both content and advertising, which
is probably a core driver of consumer engagement in-app. Native apps are
typically faster, lighter, more interactive, and can often allow offline
content browsing. They’re also easier to access for consumers, especially if
apps are loaded on to the home screen of a smartphone.
These benefits extend to ad experiences in-app as well, where advertising growth continues to explode and expected to reach $77 billion in the US this year. Mobile app ads have evolved beyond just traditional display and rewarded videos, which are typically fueled by app-install spending.
The market has evolved to include video, outstream, and
native formats, many of which provide more innovative and interactive
experiences then web since these ads can tap into the native features of
smartphones (i.e., Bluetooth, GPS, gyroscope, camera, compass, etc.).
Measurement is also greatly improved with the IAB’s Open
Measurement SDK, which facilitates 3rd-party viewability and
verification measurement in-app, and this is poised to further accelerate
mobile app ad spending. In addition, mobile apps are relatively immune to ad
blocking which is pervasive in web environments.
Better personalized ads
Mobile app inventory for publishers could become an even more critical component of a wholistic digital ad strategy as industry concerns around data privacy escalate and tech giants clamp down on tracking and personalization in browser environments. Apple’s ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention) in Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers have placed significant limitations on cookie usage and hence programmatic ads on mobile web. And Google is rumored to be evaluating similar restrictions in Chrome, which would then effect the majority share of mobile web browsers.
Mobile apps represent both a hedge against these limitations
and a superior environment for personalized advertising. In-app ad targeting
can leverage Device IDs, which are tied to specific users rather than browsers,
as well as more accurate location (GPS) and detailed demographic/behavioral
data (particularly if the app requires registration).
Ultimately, mobile apps provide a new path for publishers to diversify their revenue streams. Not only do apps provide more opportunities for advertising, but also a channel for subscriptions, in-app purchases, e-commerce, etc. In-app subscriptions actually fueled growth in consumer spending in non-gaming apps by 120% since 2016. App stores also provide an easy way for engaged audiences (which are generally more prevalent in-app than web) to subscribe and make payments for transactions.
It’s time for publishers to start investing in mobile apps,
which should no longer be an after-thought. While mobile app development and
maintenance is not an easy task for many publishers, it should be considered an
integral part of long-term digital strategy and a major growth driver. A
successful transition of web users to app users can result in significant increases
in loyalty and engagement, leading to new revenue opportunities while defending
publishers against threats in a rapidly changing digital landscape. Mobile apps
are no longer just a game (pun intended).
The report, based on responses from 200 editors, CEOs, and digital leaders from 29 countries, states that more than half (52%) of digital leaders expect subscriptions to be a main revenue focus this year. This compares to just over a quarter (27%) who cite display advertising as a main revenue source, and only 8% who state native advertising and 7% who report donations. Still, advertising is an important focus. A strong majority see display advertising (81%), subscriptions (78%) and native advertising (75%) as “important or very important” for company revenue.
Additional findings include:
Limited funding for quality news. Less than one-third (29%) of digital leaders expect funding from foundations and non-profits. Eighteen percent expect contributions from tech platforms and 11% think governments will provide more support. A full 29% of publishers do not expect any assistance in funding.
Google is very important; Facebook and YouTube less so. Google remains a key priority for most with most publishers (87%). They report it as “very or extremely important” compared to Facebook (43%), Apple (43%) or YouTube (42%) as they look to reach new audiences. Fewer publishers see Instagram (31%), Twitter (29%), WhatsApp (16%), Amazon (16%) or Snapchat (8%) as important to their news organizations.
Social media presents options for marketing and acquisitions. Publishers that are focusin on subscriptions use social media more as a marketing and acquisition channel. Still, social media usage and results differ by publisher. Magazine brands are more likely to use Instagram and Snapchat for marketing, while local news publishers use broad reach platforms for referrals.
Publishers use visual storytelling to attract a younger audience. Stories has become a highly popular storytelling format. It is used daily by 150 million people on Facebook, 190 million on Snapchat, and 300 million on Instagram. Publishers are utilizing visual storytelling because it works well on mobile and helps attract a younger audience.
Podcasts and voice assistant devices become part of publishers’ strategies. Three-quarters of publishers (75%) think that audio devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant will become an important part of their content and commercial strategies. Seventy-eight percent also report that voice assisted devices will impact how audiences access content in the next few years. The New York Times now offers a short news briefing for Alexa devices and consumers can ask for the Times’ Flash News Briefing.
Publisher paywalls may lead to consumer frustration. The strategy to put whole-publisher sites behind a paywall may meet with consumer backlash. If this occurs, publishers will likely see an increase in the adoption of subscription blockers, an easy downloadable software or browser extension with a workaround for metered paywalls.
Increasing bundled offerings and payment aggregation. To prevent churn and increase engagement, publishers will announce bundled packages including more product and cross-media packages. For example, The Times of London offers a one-year Wall Street Journal subscription. Publishers, Telcom, and over-the-top services (OTT) are also packaging their services in subscription offerings.
It’s essential for publishers to continue strengthening their relationship with consumers. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director the Reuter’s Institutes, comments in the Nieman Lab Predictions for 2019, “The shift thus has to be about better and more distinct journalism in an incredibly competitive battle for attention, about a greater focus on what readers actually value, about organizations and technologies built around serving them efficiently, and perhaps most importantly about a commitment to the long haul — to making the changes necessary to winning paying readers one at a time, keeping them, accumulating them.” Nielsen believes that in order to ensure journalism is valued, publishers must identify the needs of the reader. Importantly, there are new strategies and technologies available to build consumer value, heighten product attraction and increase engage with paying consumers.
It’s no secret: In the coming year, readers will run up against more memberships, more pleas for donations, and more paywalls. In short, more opportunities for money to escape their wallets to bolster media outlets they have previously accessed free of charge.
Companies like Buzzfeed and Quartz have recently embraced direct-to-consumer business models, joining traditional subscription outlets in a rush away from digital advertising reliant models. Beset by multipronged threats like the internet giants Facebook and Google sucking up all traces of revenue growth, declining consumer trust, and an alarming trend of fraud cases, it’s not hard to see why digital media companies are looking for alternatives.
But this shift comes at a cost. While ad based revenue models optimized for reach, the new normal will be the tailoring of niche content to attract a reliable paying clientele. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson recently predicted that the entire industry will return to the early days of journalism where a “party press” would stoke the partisan emotions of their readers.
“News media of the future could be as messy, diverse, and riotously disputatious as their audiences, because directly monetizing them is the new central challenge of the news business,” wrote Thompson.
That means that digital publishers will need to navigate the real risk of subscription fatigue. How much are consumers willing (and able) to pay for?
What it will take to survive in this new DTC world?
“As loose paywalls tighten and everyone seeks reader revenue, I imagine audiences will be forced to make choices, especially in what is looking like a dramatically slowing US economy,” said former GIzmodo Media Group CEO and Columbia University professor Raju Narisetti.
He expects that people will begin to add it all up and realize that — given other recurring payments like internet service, mobile, and subscription-based everything from meal services to shaving supplies — their content selection might need to be more discriminating.
Needless to say, publishers need to figure out how to compete for limited discretional dollars. One approach that many are trying is aggregate services like Flipboard, Texture, and Blendle.
An obvious option could be an even more widespread integration into an app like Texture, purchased by Apple last year. Texture offers a service similar to Netflix wherein a group of publishers bands together to offer a wide range of branded content for a single rate. While currently available to use, there are persistent rumors of a spring relaunch of the service included in a future Apple News update, foreseeably offering an increased amount of content above and beyond the current free selection. It’s hoped that the move would have the same omph Apple brought to its Apple Music platform. At least that’s the pitch.
Publishers remain skeptical, though. “Some executives fear Texture could end up doing more harm than good. Their concern is that Apple could steal their current subscribers, who would save money by reading articles on Texture instead,” reported Bloomberg.
One thing that could change that calculus is the confidence boost of a New York Times-shaped news outlet taking the plunge, according to Narisetti. While he admits it’s natural for the larger players to be cautious, there’s a vector for profit in the service.
“That’s because they are currently giving away up to 20 stories entirely for free on Apple News. So, in my mind, they are actually likely to incrementally gain by monetizing that via Texture, than lose any significant, core loyal direct subscribers to lower-priced subs,” he said.
Once that’s overcome, “the US news floodgates will open up on Texture, much like how NYT paywall given the confidence to the American general news industry,” he added.
But there are always more than one way to approach the problem.
Focusing on user experience, the creators of Scroll.com want to offer a direct to customer alternative which side-steps competing with a publishers revenue models by offering to remove the ads from a collection of publishers for a monthly fee. Sites load faster, users can opt out of advertising, and publishers get a new revenue stream.
“We avoid the problem of cannibalization and instead get to complement rather than compete with them. Most publishers see us as a middle of the funnel service, creating more engaged users who can then be converted into their own plans,” said Scroll founder Tony Haile.
But perhaps the industry needs to learn from the experience of the wider technology industry. Subscriptions are an increasingly popular way of packaging any digital-adjacent service (often dubbed Anything as a Service, or XaaS), whether it be a ride sharing plan, in-app purchases, or even the meals you make for dinner. But they’ve even suffered through the same issues as facing the digital publishing industry.
Value for Life
“As a media company looking at some of the struggles of consumer XaaS companies like Blue Apron last year, I would make sure to focus relentlessly on reducing my churn rate, and increasing the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) of my paid subscriber base,” said Gabe Weisert managing editor at Zuora, a subscription management platform provider.
He explained that the way towards healthy CLV is to drive usage at every opportunity. Keeping people engaged keeps them paying customers. Strategies which achieve that include cross-selling and upselling. For example, the New York Times saw solid growth of new subscribers from their crossword and cooking app offerings.
“CLV should be the gold standard metric of every media company. That’s all Netflix cares about. It’s all Amazon cares about. That’s why [subscription services] keep giving us “free” stuff — they know exactly how much those investments materially affect the value of their subscriber base,” he said.
Many quality publishers are navigating the “valley of death” on their migration from an advertising-funded model to one more reliant on direct reader revenue. It’s not a journey that they’ll all survive. But publishers are being driven by the realization that solely ad-funded models won’t work in the age of platform intermediaries and tech giants, which control both content distribution and advertising revenue. However, for publications with a loyal, engaged audience, the journey is worth the risk.
Truth be told, it’s almost as unlikely that a solely subscription-based model will be able to support news publishers at the scale at which they currently exist. Just as the relative value of digital advertising is significantly less than print advertising, so too are most digital subscriptions worth much less per user than in print. The obvious solution, then, is to have a much more diversified revenue model, made up of a combination of advertising, ecommerce, events, and subscriptions.
The Diversification Dilemma
The dilemma for many publications – particularly digital pureplays – is that precious few people will pay to support them directly, kicking away one leg of that ideal diversified revenue model. Through a combination of low propensity to pay for digital news in most countries, generic content available elsewhere, and increased competition in the direct reader revenue space, there simply isn’t enough money going around for every publication to have that stable source of income.
Consequently, many publications are reappraising what their ad-funded, free-to-access properties are capable of when it comes to building additional revenue streams. Many have correctly realized that a free at point of access touchpoint with readers has advantages for launching new products (and reaching a wider consumer base) that aren’t replicable behind a paywall.
Going to Market
Time Out group, for instance, which has kept control to an extent of the events listings that for the most part migrated to new platforms, has used its website and widely available free magazine to promote the Time Out Market in Lisbon. That space, designed to capitalise on the huge audiences who visit the site, saw revenue growth of 50% in the six months to June 30 this year. Time Out also plans to launch five new markets in North America next year, including New York, Miami, Boston, and Chicago.
Similarly, in the UK the free newspaper the Evening Standard has been making a play to own the experiential space with events of its own, capitalizing on its own widespread availability as a free touchpoint in major cities to support its efforts. Despite a £10m loss this year – due in no small part to a mangled redesign spearheaded by its new editor– it’s an advantage the Standard is continuing to push by increasing its free circulation.
ShortList magazine is actively engaged in the same endeavor. However its Chairman Mike Soutar told an audience at this year’s Magfest in Edinburgh that the costs of delivery free media in print necessarily limit where those audience touchpoints are viable:
“I think free cannot work outside of urban conurbations, because you need audience and you need people to act. The proof of free media is engagement and the proof of engagement is when people do something, they buy a product, they do something with it.”
So if free print titles are diversifying into events and experiential marketing based on having touchpoints in viable areas in the real world, how are free digital titles diversifying? They don’t, after all, have the advantage of a guaranteed audience in a specific geography, nor a controlled circulation. which all but guarantees a decent amount of advertising revenue. They’re also more exposed to the ravages of the tech giants’ push for control of ad revenue. And, while they don’t have legacy print costs to content with, content creation is costly no matter the medium. Only this month The Outline, the Joshua Topolsky-founded news and culture site, laid off its last two remaining full-time staff writers, despite a valuation of over $21m earlier in the year, for instance.
For the most part, digital pureplay publications are instead launching new premium products in their vertical. Quartz, for instance, is launching its first paid-for product with its cryptocurrency newsletter Private Key. BuzzFeed, meanwhile, is taking advantage of its position to diversify further into ecommerce revenue: In his ‘9 Boxes’ memo its founder Jonah Peretti explicitly set out his vision for diversification of revenue by referencing its Tasty sub-brand, around which it has launched a raft of ecommerce propositions.
Regardless of whether a free publication is in print or digital (or occasionally both), the idea that advertising will not solely sustain it has become widely accepted. As a result publishers are diversifying revenue as fast as they possibly can, given the limitations of funding and time. Whether that’s diversification using a print title to buoy events and experiential, or by launching new ecommerce propositions around a vertical in digital, the question is no longer who is diversifying, but how quickly can they own the space into which they are expanding.
To many, it would seem that Jarrod Dicker had a dream job runningtheinnovationteam at The Washington Post. He led one of the most experimental journalism shops in the country with the backing of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. While Dicker recognized his good fortune, he also saw room for something more – something you might not even find at one of the most progressive publications around. He saw a hole that needed to be filled and that maybe the blockchain would be the right fit.
That’s why last February, Dicker quit his job at the Post tobecometheCEOofPo.et, a publishing blockchain startup. It was a company offering a publishing model so fresh and compelling, Dicker simply couldn’t resist.
The attraction? A chance to create a way out of the revenue box the publishing industry is in.
Dicker had been working on building a new ad model at the Washington Post, but he recognized that approach would only get him so far. “What we were doing at Post was first step toward building new vision of the media industry,” he said. However, he knew it was going to be very hard for one publisher to change the revenue model for an entire industry.
Like many, he questioned whether it was possible to survive long-term with the current advertising model, particularly in a world of poor advertising experiences, where consumers increasingly opted to use ad blockers. Dicker thought that there had to be a better way – and that might just be the blockchain.
The blockchain may seem like a strange savior, but Dicker suggests we consider the full utility of an immutable, irrefutable record. If you could prove ownership and perhaps even truthfulness beyond a shadow of a doubt, maybe you could shift from the ad model to one where revenue comes directly from content consumers.
He says that Po.et is working today as a technology layer where creators can place ideas and, using programming hooks, build licensing and revenue models on the platform. “If someone created content, they can create proof of work and attribution and manage permissions all on the platform. Then they can share a public key and anyone can use it, or if it has value they can charge to unlock it,” he said.
The company started with a set of open source tools that publishers and individuals can tap into to build applications that take advantage of the platform. “If you are a publisher and your content goes through Po.et., you can define when and how to share your content based on rules and permissions. If the permissions rules are broken, there are indicators to warn you, and that brings smarter and more efficient ownership to this space,” he said. It also frees the content owner from using ads because the value is based on the content itself, rather than on an ad model.
The promise of this approach is a sophisticated licensing mechanism that takes something like CreativeCommons and allows content owners not just the ability to apply their license/sharing method of choice, but also a mechanism to enforce it. This enables Po.et to act as a marketplace where you can attach a license to your content that requires people to pay a fee to use it. Then the platform will handle the transaction for you based on the rules and permissions you have applied.
The whole idea is egalitarian in a sense. It puts the revenue power in the hands of the content owner or publishers. However, as we have seen in the last couple of years, that which is open and free is also subject to gross manipulation by people or nation states with an agenda. What’s to stop people from gaming the market?
Dicker sees the marketplace itself as the defense against such abuse. As such, he wants to avoid having some sort of formalized policing method. “Policing the platform is going against what’s happening with a decentralized [system] and blockchain. If people have to stake tokens, dollars and reputation, there is more value with this incentive,” he said. He believes this buy-in and the nature of the blockchain itself will help prevent any abuse of the platform. “That’s the beauty of the blockchain. Everything is on the ledger and everyone can see whatever is happening,” he said.
He still plans to find ways to keep the marketplace from getting polluted. “There will be ways to sift out content if marketplace isn’t sifting it out. But what we are working towards is something that can be leveraged by all and used by all, and that’s the core ethos of what we are trying to do.”
Poets on the blockchain
In fact, Po.et was so invested in the blockchain multi-owner vision they did a $10 millionInitialCoinOffering or ICO to sell tokens and raise money for their project. The idea behind the ICO was to get buy-in from a group of investors committed to the idea of building a decentralized marketplace for content owners and a more discoverable network not beholden to larger networks like Facebook or ad models.
Dicker says that people bought these tokens, not as an investment vehicle as you might think, but because they believe in the company. “Even though there is a token, it can’t be bought and sold. They hold that token because they believe in the mission,” he said. Dicker believes that kind of buy-in will help reinforce the underlying structure of the platform and make it more difficult for people to try and find ways to work around it.
“Everyone who has an idea should be able to control that idea. How do we make it simple to store that content and assign a set of permissions that define who can see it and who can’t.” Whether such at vision can thrive, even with the best of intentions remains to be seen. But Dicker sees a better way for the publishing industry on an open platform where the owner controls how the content gets shared and monetized – and where advertising no longer forms the primary basis of the revenue model.