How publishers can develop a culture of outcome-driven experimentation

Media innovator Dan Pacheco’s recent talk about a toolkit for assessing emerging technologies takes me back to my master’s study in innovation management. One of the most important sets of tools that I learned was how companies - whether in publishing or technology - can de-risk choices. Dan Pacheco has been working in media innovation for as long, if not longer than I have, and I think that one of his key points about the need for experimentation is key. And this isn’t just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Advanced media companies such as the Financial Times have developed a structured way of approaching experimentation. The FT’s North Star framework supports companies in developing an overarching goal that helps align the company. From that North Star goal, a company develops outcomes, and those outcomes frame experiments to test hypotheses.

One of the most important elements of an aligning goal is that it helps filter out the possible outcomes and experiments to keep an organisation focused. And focus is critical because, in this era of change, it is easy to become distracted. Julie Posetti in a piece of research for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism warned publishers of succumbing to the Shiny Object Syndrome. And I can think of this with things like the NFT craze, which was driven a lot by excess capital during the pandemic looking for high returns and creating a temporary bubble that has since collapsed. As I have often said during my years of consulting with media companies, there are so many things you can do in digital media that the challenge is figuring out what you must do.

Publishers worldwide are facing a challenge, which is to build direct relationships with audiences. They no longer want to “rent an audience” on another platform whose motivations might run counter to their own. Based on a census by the Economist’s head of newsletters, 123 publishers have a presence on Telegram. The messaging service offers unique benefits for publishers in or wanting to reach audiences in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East. It provides public channels and private chats, and it has proven difficult for repressive governments to block. Russia has tried. This line from the piece in Media Makers Meet stood out for me: “Telegram combines personal communication and broadcast capabilities effectively, offering a direct connection with audiences.” It is a good reminder that for publishers in certain geographies, the tools will be different than others. We’re in that moment when the retreat from the news by Facebook and the decline in relevance of Twitter/X means that regional tools will rise in importance again.

Greg Piechota, researcher at INMA, outlines the thinking behind publishers’ discounts. As he points out, the most successful publishers target the highest consumers of news, and these audiences tend to be affluent and not necessarily suffering too badly from inflation and the cost of living crisis. And INMA’s data counters some of the pessimism around the subscription economy showing that there is still growth both in volume and revenue with subscriptions. There is really good data in this report that shows that most publishers offer discounts but not massive ones - most in the 1 to 14% range. There are some excellent benchmarks in this research to keep handy.

Are you behind in adopting AI? Join the club. It is still early days for many news organisations, according to an LSE survey.

The FT has launched a new app for its international readers. The replica app is only used by about 16,000 subscribers, but 81% of those are abroad. The FT’s continued development of this digital edition makes sense as the costs of print grow. This allows them to offer a print-like experience without the costs.

Here is a great resource for product managers about how to work with vendors, and now that I’m on the vendor side of this relationship. There is some great advice here especially about communicating priorities and building relationships both in your organisation but also with the vendor that you're working with.

With my wife now writing three newsletters on Substack, I have been watching its development more than I was a year ago. And I have to say that the company is definitely building a platform, not just a newsletter tool. I am curious about new user acquisition outside of the newsletter writers themselves. I would be fascinated to see the growth in consumers of the newsletters rather than just creators of them. But they definitely are iterating their product rapidly.

I’m just going to end this newsletter with a small detail about the continuing decline, if not all-out collapse, of local news media in Canada. It’s really sad to watch this, although I have seen this happen over the last decade in the US and UK first-hand.

What services should local newspaper groups centralise and what shouldn’t they

Friday and Saturday, I got to catch up with two friends in the industry, Greg Piechota of INMA and Damon Kiesow, the Knight Chair in Journalism Innovation at the University of Missouri. Greg and I talked about a lot of things including the cost of developing an app for a news organisation and where apps sit in the conversion funnel for publishers. I came away thinking that the presumption of app development being pricey might be due to the high cost of in-house development. And I would have said that before I joined Pugpig because I’ve always been more on the buy side of the buy versus build discussion. We also talked about the business models that support local journalism. I’m more sceptical of advertising-supporting models than Greg is. I’m definitely a reader revenue convert. I say convert because I thought that digital advertising would provide more revenue than it has. And it still can, but the real revenue is in direct sales and not programmatic or network ad sales. However, the real issue might not be down to advertising-supported models versus reader-revenue supported models but rather those newspaper groups that are solely focused on local and those like Gannett and Reach that try to balance the demands of local and national publishing.

Damon and I talked about a lot of things including what Press Forward means for US local news, but one of the topics that really interested me was a research idea that he had. When thinking about the future of local journalism, there is a question about what services can be shared and what services are best locally controlled and executed. Large newspaper groups like Gannett (Gatehouse before it) and Reach have centralised a lot of services to try to reduce costs in the face of declining revenues. It’s a very typical business strategy, but if it was the answer, both groups would be performing better than they are. Although Damon appreciates that it runs counter to conventional wisdom, it is worth thinking about what services make economic and operational sense to centralise. Centralised and regionalised reporting has been a mixed bag to be sure, but I also would argue that centralised direct sales has failed to deliver. The local relationships that both reporters and ad sales staff have are core to the business. Back-end services can definitely be centralised, although when I was at Gannett in 2014-2015 the HR function was so centralised that HR partners had to cover multiple states. It really is a good question, and we both thought that the first step was convincing people that it was a reasonable question to ask. To be honest, it is the kind of industry research that needs to happen, and I wouldn’t mind doing it (if I wasn’t already busy with my day job).

Speaking of Reach, as someone who consulted with Reach on Engagement for a couple of years (2016-early 2018), I still have a soft spot for them because their teams were so dedicated and innovative. They have needed a strategic pivot because their current strategy simply isn’t working, and I welcome the fact that they are trying to diversify their revenue from advertising and platform-driven volume. Here is a bit of straight talk that I hope my friends don’t mind. The first challenge with these paid-for products will be to convince customers that they are worth paying for. Some of their brands have lost a lot of equity in their communities.

Very apropos of the discussion about internal services, the New York Times has an interesting piece from a member of their print hub team. The Print Hub at the New York Times takes copy that was written for digital platforms and edits it for print. It shows how digital-first these processes have become, and it also pulls back the curtain to let readers understand how the sausage is made.

This story shows that the local journalism crisis is a North American story, not just a US story, and in many ways, the headlines out of Canada about job cuts and the wholesale shuttering of titles has been starker than in the US over the last year. This headline was incredibly shocking, and it’s unclear what happens next.

As someone who has worked in local print, TV and radio media in the US, I find this fascinating. The crisis in local media in North America is undeniable. Press Forward is just one effort to respond to this crisis. Another comes out of US public radio. Public radio provides invaluable services to local communities across the US. My first full-time journalism job was in western Kansas, and I used to listen to High Plains Public Radio reading service for the blind. It was a service intended for the blind or visually impaired, but for me, it was a great way for a poor journalist to listen to what was, in effect, an audiobook service. But the news service was spread out over thousands of square miles, and they often relied on local newspapers for material. It will take creativity and a lot of different experiments to address the crisis. I think small digital outlets will be the foundation, but I also see public radio playing a role as well.

Revenue pressures are not just on local journalism groups but also on digital creators such as the writers on Substack. Like bigger outlets looking to increase ARPU through bundling, Substack creators are looking to diversify their revenue by adding podcasts.

And in today’s review of AI headlines, we have news out of the UK of AI 'editorial ‘co-pilots’’ but also a bit of news about efforts to monetise archives. Again, this is about creating resilience at publishers by leveraging technology not just to squeeze costs from the business but also to add revenue. This is promising.

And my friends over The Mix look at the challenges that generative AI pose to publishers. This article looks at the challenge that AI chatbots could pose. As we often say at Pugpig, now is the time to lean into creating direct relationships with audiences. Instead of worrying about what Google, Microsoft and others do, this is the time to act.

Welcome to the Push Era: How to build loyalty with loosely connected mobile audiences

I don’t often share a post from work, but when I do, it is because I think it’s worth it. For a while, I’ve been thinking about what comes next after the Platform Era in publishing, and while I think this overlaps the Platform Era, I think it is right to say that we are now in a new era, which I have come to call the Push Era. In the Platform Era, publishers came to rely on platforms to distribute their content and build their audience. In the Push Era, publishers use newsletters, podcasts and push notifications from apps to connect with audiences directly. These tools and techniques build loyalty and habits that lead to subscription, membership and app downloads.

In the article, we also reviewed techniques to increase mobile conversion that we have used at Pugpig Consulting and also recommended by membership and subscription Poool’s Madeleine White. As audiences shift to mobile, that is the place to convert users to members, subscribers or simply known users. But mobile provides unique challenges. We go through a number of techniques used in the Push Era to increase engagement with distracted mobile audiences and build the relationships necessary to convert them.

In the Push Era, relationships with customers become more important than ever. “‘Audiences’ suggest passive consumption, while ‘communities’ suggest interaction and participation.” Operationally, it’s a mix of data and relationship-building.

The big news at the end of last week in US local journalism circles was the launch of Press Forward, a half-a-billion funding programme to support local newsrooms and also to enable business and technology support for the local news ecosystem. When you look at the amount of money that has flowed out of local journalism, even half a billion dollars is a drop in the bucket, and they know it. But they hope that this funding attracts more. “If wisely deployed, however, the new funding will have a multiplier effect, attracting meaningful additional dollars to the cause of local news, and building solutions that scale.”

This is an interesting bit of research. The common impression is that young people aren’t engaged with news. But a survey commissioned by the Medill School at Northwestern University paints a different picture with almost a third engaging with news almost daily. However, those who engage daily with newspapers is low, only 5%, but they have much higher engagement with local TV news.

Interns at the Star Tribune in Minnesota were called on by senior management to help them understand how to reach people their age. Some of it isn’t surprising including newsletters on things to do for young professionals, but I think it’s worth noting about different price tiers that are more appropriate for their income.

I think that we’re going to see more collaborations in publishing and other industries as they try to adapt to AI.

Clubhouse? I had almost forgotten that this app existed. It now is pivoting to be more like a messaging app It’s too bad that Telegram and Meta’s WhatsApp already have this market pretty sewn up.

‘Non-profit media isn’t a business model, it’s a tax status’ – great advice for non-profit media management

The Texas Tribune not only helped inspire a wave of non-profit newsrooms in the US but also sold its experience in the space as a way of earning revenue. So when it recently announced its first ever layoffs, questions were asked. Andrew Ramsammy has a reminder for anyone who suffered from romantic thinking about the non-profit model. “"Non-profit media isn't a business model, it's a tax status." Andrew offers some very useful advice for people looking to launch a non-profit. First off, it’s important to acknowledge that non-profits suffer from the same business challenges that for-profit companies do. He also points out that a large donation might lead an organisation to expand beyond its long-term revenue streams. Yup, and also philanthropy often comes with reporting requirements and many times a requirement to cover specific issues or areas. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

For my money, I would explore B-corp status. It has its own requirements, but I think that it helps align the missional aspects of journalism with the business. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to make money, but it does mean that your missional goals are baked into the enterprise.

While much of the attention in English-language media is about the travails of local media in the US and UK, The Fix rounds up efforts to support local media across Europe. This really describes a common issue: “Local media often prioritise community service over economic viability. This leads to precarious financial standing for the outlet in the medium and long term. Lack of funding also puts more pressure on the journalists and reporters as they would then need to do their work on a voluntary basis.”

This is a great piece about the hit model of media. “In an apparent contradiction, the internet both fragments and concentrates attention.” Yes, and with every new format - like podcasts - there is a period of massive expansion when new players can rapidly stake a claim to attention before major players get involved. It’s an exciting time, but eventually, consolidation takes place. A thoughtful piece maybe to read over the weekend.

One of the things that my master’s degree gave me was a deep appreciation of the power of qualitative research. I’m a data geek at heart, but I learned how critical adding qualitative data is in terms of product development and research. Here is a case study from Oz about how Nine uses a community platform to conduct qualitative research to canvas its audience in a much more informal and consistent way.

I had heard about this through the former Guardian employees’ network. I was at the Guardian when we launched the local project, and while I had my doubts about the positioning of the project, I was saddened to see that it only had a year-long runway to test the idea. The journalists were doing exactly the right things. It’s good to see one of the team take what they learned and apply it to the modern local model. It’s another data point in how newsletters are now the MVP - minimum viable product - of local journalism.

Media companies might not be presenting a united front on the IP issues related to AI, but The Guardian has joined a growing group of major news groups that are blocking OpenAI’s GPTBot crawler.

We are now onto our second and third round of stories about Mark Thompson taking the helm at CNN. Personally, I think that 24-hour cable news channels are an anachronism. They are powerful when a major news event demands live coverage, but most news doesn’t require the wall-to-wall coverage that can be done on a 24-hour channel. However, the ability to go live when you need to and have the capacity to be on demand at other times, I think there is something compelling there.

Poynter highlights a story that was making the rounds in journalism Twitter last week about a family in Pennsylvania that was fighting each other over the sale of four titles it owns to vulture fund Alden Global Capital. And Poynter calls for new policy to prevent more consolidation in local media in the US.

Social media and creator economy roundup

I have to say that there was a time when I thought that Substack was pivoting its way to oblivion, but it finally seems to have put the product features together that have created a compelling network media play with newsletters, podcasts and a social network coming together to support the creators.

And we have more news about Meta stepping back from news as it faces more regulation globally. Canada is trying to make its case for a new law that requires Facebook to pay news outlets. Meta isn’t biting and will continue to block news in the country. And in Europe, Meta is closing its new tab. Also in Europe, it is considering a subscription offering that would eliminate ads.

UK Regional Media: Mass print only has a few years left

When the industry publication like the Press Gazette in the UK prints this, it feels like a wake up call about the state of regional journalism in the country:

Why do we start from the point that these companies are worth saving? They are not. And the more we talk about this, the more we are failing to focus on ways that new journalism might emerge. In other words, there is much to be said for letting the whole rotting edifice collapse and see what crawls from the rubble.

Gilson’s point is that efforts to save local journalism in the UK - here call regional journalism - shouldn’t be focused on propping up the large newspaper groups such as Reach and National World, which he called “a handful of husk-like companies led by overpaid chief execs employing ever-decreasing numbers of low-paid but blameless reporters”. Ouch again.

In short, he wants to allow these large companies to continue to decline while there is support in the way of grants, charitable endowments and also some state funding to support start-ups that are exploring new models.

From the experience in the US, this will happen regardless of what the government does or does not do. The big giants in the US and the UK are becoming less and less rooted in communities and much more regionalised, spreading thin staffs over wider areas and providing less community news. This is allowing scrappy small players to develop and grow on their own. I’ll get to that in a minute.

And Gilson refers to a report from well-respected media watchers Enders Analysis that says that mass print has only a few years left, about three to five. From what I’m hearing in my work, the costs of print are simply becoming prohibitive. Publishers really need to game out what would happen in a digital-only or at least digital-dominant local journalism world. In Reach’s latest quarterly results, digital revenue was down 16% to £60m while print revenue still dwarfed that figure at £217m. Even if you take the costs of print out of the equation, those businesses simply couldn’t operate at that scale if they lost the bulk of their revenue. Enders says that publishers will have to transform themselves into sustainable digital businesses. While the UK has some unique challenges, this is possible.

And almost on cue, one model is attracting not only audiences but also investment. Newsletter-first publisher, The Mill has seen investment from the former NYTimes CEO and recently named CNN CEO Mark Thompson and Axios Publisher Nicholas Johnson. It’s a smart move by Johnson who is building out his own local newsletter network in the states under the Axios brand. For established players, newsletters have become a critical audience development tool, and for start-ups, they have become the MVP - the minimum viable product - that allows them to enter new markets.

I mentioned that lay-offs the Texas Tribune earlier this week, and Nieman Lab called on the organisation to be more transparent about what happened so that other non-profits can learn from it. One thing that seems to have happened is that the Texas Tribune received some of its funding from educational advertising, which seems to have been curtailed under new rules by the state of Texas.

A look at the positive reception that Mark Thompson is receiving as he takes over the helm of CNN. I think that his ability to navigate the ‘institutional politics’ of an organisation like CNN will be his most valuable trait. Seeing as his predecessor came in and shuttered a new digital-only offering, it will be interesting to see what Thompson brings in terms of digital strategy to CNN.

With much of this newsletter focused on local news, here is a good thing to digest over the weekend: an overview of the relationship of the decline in local journalism and increased partisanship in the US. I do remember when I was a local editor that some local folks who had an axe to grind about Big Media didn’t distinguish the coastal media elites that they loved to rail against and our tiny local newsroom.

Today in AI: Gannett pulls back from an experiment after glaring issues and authors sue OpenAI

Gannett was in the news and definitely not the kind of headlines it would want. The US newspaper giant was using AI to write some of its local sports reports, and sadly, it seems that they didn’t think to have a copy editor take a look over them. Sigh.

This case will have a profound impact on the interpretation of copyright in the age of large-language models. If a piece of content is used to train an LLM, does that mean that every work is derivative of the original scraped works? And if so, how will compensation be determined?

Ben Smith of Semafor posted this in the wake of the announcement that the Washington Post would be laying off staff from its Arc XP CMS platform. I think the issue is that while Vox and the Post built tools that worked for them and then tried to seek a new revenue stream by selling on that technology. The issue is that is split the focus of product development for the businesses and created tensions between the internal product roadmap and the roadmap for their external customers. The Post tried to strike a balance and still seems to be trying to succeed in that balancing act. But whether the layoffs at the Washington Post are indicative of larger problems for the parent company or another data point in why publishers shouldn’t become tech companies has yet to be seen.

And one last social media note for the week. Meta’s Threads is trying to iterate quickly to regain lost momentum. Meta is good at that, but the social space is particularly cluttered right now. There will have to be a shake-out of all of these platforms that have sprung up in the wake of Twitter’s drama-filled decline since Musk bought it as his personal plaything.

The importance of “zero-party” data for local news outlets

By now, publishers have acknowledged the importance of first-party data as platforms like Google and Apple offer privacy as a feature to users. It might seem self-serving for those companies, but there is customer demand for it. Now, Dorrine Mendoza with the Local Media Association in the US introduces the idea of zero-party data, where users willingly offer you data when they offer you information about themselves with registrations, newsletters or contest offerings. It’s quite an old idea - users trade their data for access or some other tangible benefit, but with the changes in the industry it is gaining new currency. I think the new realisation is that while data is critical so are the relationships that you have with your audiences. It is the basis for sustainable reader revenue business.

Publishers are working hard to adjust to the new world of AI, and in doing so, they want to own their destiny. One area that seems to be a focus of experimentation and product development is the development of AI chatbots using their own material, and the tech publisher behind Macworld and PCWorld are trying their hand at building their own AI chatbots.

Another area of experimentation with AI is using the tools to make simple editorial tasks easier such as transcription or summarisation. Paul Cheung at the Reynolds Journalism Institute in the US reviews a couple.

Industry News - Layoffs at the Washington Post and the Texas Tribune

Layoffs (or redundancies for my UK readers) are sadly not an uncommon thing in media, but these two rounds highlight some shifts in the industry that bear mentioning. The Washington Post has announced layoffs at its CMS division - Arc XP. This comes after it passed on an opportunity to sell the business and it announced long-term plans for it.

And the Texas Tribune also announced a round of layoffs, its first ever. The non-profit news organisation has been held up as a model for others to follow, and it was an early mover in what is now a movement in the US towards the non-profit model. However, the same issues plaguing for-profit news operations - a shift in the platform eco-system and soft ad sales - are affecting the non-profit standard bearer as well.

While local news has been seen as one of the most challenging areas of the journalism and media business in the last decade in the US and UK, there are positive developments. And in the US, a local publisher in the South - New Orleans and other communities in southern Louisiana - has been doing quite well. The secret is revenue diversification, and that is one of the major themes on the commercial side of publishing. The more sources of revenue a publisher has, the more resilient the business is.

This development caught my eye mainly because it is pinned to a new phase of international expansion for the Independent. Their registration-driven, data-led strategy is definitely paying dividends.

And there were two major misinformation stories over my long weekend - one to do with Russia and another to do with the Chinese. As both countries face challenges, they will increasingly turn to information operations in an attempt to manage the information space both domestically and internationally.

As someone who embraced blogging back in the early 2000s and can honestly say that blogs helped transform my career, it is sad to see a blogging platform in France pass into archives. But it’s an interesting look at the transformation and transition in technologies and social technologies.

Others, Clairouin told me, have seemed nostalgic for a “more intimate,” less centralized internet, before the era of Big Tech platform dominance. “We see today a desire…to again find spaces that are smaller, more constrained, less open,” he said.


How reducing payment friction increased subscription conversion for a French publisher

At Pugpig, we have a mutual admiration society with Madeleine White and The Audiencers, the content side of the consulting wing of subscription service provider Poool. The Audiencers consistently has top-notch coverage of how publishers are experimenting with reader registration and revenue strategies, much of driven by Poool’s quite interesting technology. In this podcast interview with, Madeleine discusses a range of successful strategies that publishers are using. The one highlighted front and centre is how Journal du dimanche in France integrated a payment solution directly into their paywall and managed to increase conversation by 40%. It goes to show that by reducing friction, publishers can increase their conversion rates.

In a great interview with Chris Stone of the New Statesman, talks about the commercial strategy underpinning their podcasts. The progressive political magazine has a very solid audio offering, and Chris has talked about how they have unified their podcast feeds. But in this interview, he discusses their commercial strategy, which is leaning into branded content, which makes a lot of sense considering their audience of professionals and policymakers.

A good rundown of the most popular apps in the UK. What is amazing is how the BBC stands so far ahead of other news outlets in the UK.

This is a good reminder that when product managers are developing services for internal use - whether they include AI or not - they need to bring their customers - their colleagues - with them. It is a hard lesson that I have had to learn over the years.

I am not sure that this headline is accurate in that monetisation via social media was always a challenge. Publishers who were more aware that social media was a brand-building tool rather than seeing it as a direct monetisation tool have have been more successful. However, seeing how publishers who did rely more on social media make the shift to new strategies is instructive. It provides a template for other publishers looking for new audience and commercial strategies.

As publishers have shifted to subscriptions, it is important to consider the broader subscription landscape. What other services are you competing against? Streaming is definitely one of the biggest challengers for consumers disposable income. And now, we have data on how price pressures and competition are affecting the fortunes of streamers. In the US, churn is up to 47%. Cord cutters are now cutting back on the number of subscriptions that they have. What does this mean for publishers? As Reuters Institute said in their annual digital news report, we are now in a winner takes most world. What will it take for your subscription to be one of the fewer that people keep.

And this news shows how economic pressures are affecting publishing models of all stripes. The Texas Tribune has been one of the standard bearers when it comes to non-profit news models, and it is having to turn to layoffs (redundancies) for the first time in its 14-year history. The unsteady economy and advertising volatility seem to have taken a toll, but it also appears that the outlet is feeling pressure “to explore new platforms”. Again, platform pressure is one of the major themes of the year.

The week in platforms

This should come as news to no one, but Facebook groups have exposed readers to hoaxes. Research by the charity Full Fact identified 1,200 posts on a range of topics that were “designed to terrify local communities”. If you wonder why people are dealing with increasing levels of anxiety, I direct you to Exhibit A.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, we now have AI feeding content to pink slime, fake local news sites, and with wildfires in Canada, this kind of information not only terrifies local communities but it might be deadly. And in Canada where Google and Meta have stopped linking to real news sites due to legislation in the country, it is a perfect fire storm of false information.

And Mr. Musk continues to conduct what I referred to as “product vandalism” by removing headlines from lines on the social network formerly known as Twitter. Sigh.

With stories about the rapid rise and fall of Meta’s Twitter-competitor Threads, they just rolled out a web interface for it in the hopes of renewing engagement.

A good piece from The Verge on how Google’s YouTube is trying to negotiate with the music majors so that they can use their content to train their AI engines while telling “the rest of the web” that they have the right to scrape their material without compensation. That might be a slight exaggeration, but Google is pushing hard in the AI wars because it is behind companies like OpenAI.

INMA: How to respond to the fraying relationship between media brands and audiences

We’re in a period of profound change in media and journalism right now, and I think that Edward Roussel, head of digital for The Times, puts it best when he says that there the relationship between “media brands and audiences is fraying”. I was just re-reading this year’s Reuters Institute digital news report, and it puts a figure to this fraying “Across markets, only around a fifth of respondents (22%) now say they prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app – that’s down 10 percentage points since 2018,” the report found. Add to this news avoidance and a collapse in trust in news not only in the US but the UK and elsewhere, and it begins to underscore the challenge facing media companies. We must develop and nurture direct relationships with audiences so that they will be willing to support what we do, whether that is journalism or more creative content.

From this overview by INMA, Roussel says that media companies need to end their reliance on search and social. For social media, it is a recognition of the collapse in traffic from social platforms, but moving away from search is also future-proofing your business for expected changes brought by AI. This is a shift from demographic profiling to individual profiling, from third-party to first-party data and from a focus on growth metrics to engagement metrics. This is worth keeping in your back pocket because it summarises some of these major shifts in media and also how companies will need to respond to them.

When it comes to making these changes, data underpins it all, and WAN-IFRA has a report on what drives data adoption. I remember at a recent conference by FT Strategies and Google that an FT product manager spoke of how data had become a common language that bridged different parts of their business. I’m commonly asked how to start the journey to becoming a data-led organisation, and this report discusses the various ways that news organisations are doing this. One takeaway: Yes, there are best practices, but every journey seems to have unique elements based on the culture of the organisation.

And while subscriptions are the foundation of a modern media business, successful companies quickly branch out into other products and revenue streams to add resilience to their operations. Content licencing is just one of many options.

A daily newsletter is a real commitment, and I remember from a time when I had the time that this newsletter almost became daily. Here are some great tips on how to remain committed and engaging. “Helping guide you through the noise.” Yes, please, more of that.

Columbia Journalism School opens doors and provides its students with a tremendous network and step up for any journalism career. But the price of admission is too much for many, and the costs can weigh journalists down for years and also prevent them from taking many opportunities that don’t pay six figures. It’s important to note that my first journalism job paid $2000 less than a first-year teacher in the community where I lived, and local journalism jobs can often pay as little as $22,000, the starting salary that was paid to

This makes me profoundly uncomfortable. When platforms have so much power that they get in the way of people getting critical public safety information, then I’m really not happy about that.

Blendle pivoted away from micropayments. Did it miss the pivot to aggregators?

As we wrote about in this week’s Pugpig Media Bulletin, there was quite a bit of chatter about Blendle shutting down its micropayment service in journalism circles. Digging a little deeper, my team member James and I looked at both the micropayments model and also why Blendle didn’t live up to the hype that met it when it expanded from its base in the Netherlands in the middle of the last decade.

The central focus has been on what this means for micropayments, and it definitely raises questions about the place that micropayments play in the subscription stack. As my colleague James pointed out in the piece, micropayments increase conversion challenges because you constantly have to convince people to pay. And I’ve seen a number of different models to reduce this friction, but they all require network effects that no micropayment system has ever been able to achieve. Meaning, a micropayment provider needs to reach a scale so that they make sense for users. Or a publisher might add micropayments for those potential subscribers who just want to read a single article - a day pass for those loosely connected audiences. And we are seeing that with the new generation of dynamic paywall systems.

But more than the issue around micropayment, looking at Blendle, it seemed that they focused too much on the payment system and missed the pivot to aggregators, which they could have made with the high-profile early backers they had. Blende missed a pivot that could have made them a much bigger player, especially for mobile aggregators like News Break. I have to wonder if all of the attention that they received for micropayments blinded them to an opportunity to the shift in user behaviour and the market. Instead, they were acquired by Cafeyn - an ‘information streaming’ service aka an aggregator.

Before the pandemic, events were a huge revenue driver for publishers, especially financial newspapers like the FT or B2B businesses. But COVID really dented that business, which is an understatement. While publishers are looking to events as an important source of revenue, there are other pressures or motivations driving publishers, and FIPP reviews how environmental imperatives are also being taken into consideration. It will be a difficult balance between the drive for face-to-face networking, costs and environmental imperatives.

I am always on the lookout for great resources, and the Washington Post has shared its guide for optimising web performance, including SEO.

This week’s development in AI and media

I do feel a bit like a broken record about all of these AI stories, but it is good to see this guidance from AP about how to describe generative AI systems. Language matters, and there has been laziness in describing what large language models are doing.

And we have the latest installment in what will be an important front in the battle between AI companies and publishers. The New York Times is considering suing OpenAI. It might well be a legal gambit by the Times to improve their negotiating position with OpenAI, the makers of ChatGPT, but we will see a lot more of this.

As Google makes progress on the technology that many publishers fear, which is a system in which chat services mean that users do not have to come to publishers’ websites to get the information that they need. This will challenge publishers to find a new way to monetise their content, and this is why publishers are putting renewed emphasis on building direct relationships with their audience. These developments will put more distance between ad-based volume publishers and reader-revenue value publishers.

As someone who has been fortunate enough to navigate many changes in media, this is a good list of how to navigate changes in your media career. It is a good resource.

The stories have been rolling out about how engagement has collapsed on Meta’s Threads in a short time after its introduction. Can Zuck’s team pivot the product fast enough to re-engage lost users? (I am re-engaging because it is still a nicely quiet social media space.)

Sigh. This week’s drama at Twitter X is that Musk is throttling links to the New York Times, Reuters, Substack and Facebook. I guess this is the cage fight with Zuck. Social media is really becoming a soap opera.

A very deep dive into Community Notes, a new Twitter feature. This looks at how the algorithms work that surface the notes.

The New York Times’ Bundling Strategy: When carrots stop working, sticks will do

I have been a New York Times digital news subscriber for years now, and they have been working to get me to graduate to their higher priced and richer bundle for a while now. I’m paying $17 a month news, and $25 a month will net me the full suite of New York Times products - cooking, games and reviews.

And I get it, multi-product users of any publisher are much easier to retain than single-product customers. That is even true with print. If a publisher is able to get a print subscriber to use a digital product such as an app or games, then it is much easier to retain them. And apps as a platform and games as a content type are the highest engagement products in publishing.

However, as the Press Gazette points out, the New York Times is now pushing the bundle to the exclusion of a news-only subscription or other standalone subscriptions. New or existing subscribers will get a heavily discounted bundle but they won’t get the same cost savings for the standalone products, and the Press Gazette says that it the Times is even making it more difficult to buy a standalone news package. It will be interesting to see how far the Times can push this. People like choice, and they don’t want to go the way of cable TV and offer a package that audiences don’t want. Fortunately, the price difference between a standalone news subscription and the full-price bundle isn’t that great. But it will be interesting to see how consumers respond.

Suw, my wife, is a Substack convert, and I think what links Beehiiv, which I use for this newsletter, and Substack are the audience development tools. Newsletter tools have gone far beyond ESPs. Beehiiv has a referral system, and Substack is working on leveraging network effects to allow writers to build their audiences. I think that Substack is really onto something with Notes and other features that create a sense of a newsletter community. If Substack can work a bit on opening up the top of the funnel, then I think they will really have cracked the newsletter eco-system. Newsletters are a real hustle, but these systems open up the possibility of real audience growth that supports a wider range of newsletter businesses.

Today’s Developments in AI: NYTimes updates Ts & Cs to cover AI scraping, News Corp looks to cut costs using AI and Digiday’s definitive AI glossary

I have to say that I have a lot of sympathy for publishers, artists, writers and musicians who want licencing agreements from AI companies who train their machines on their journalism, music or other artistic output. Frankly, it simply feels like just compensation, and I don’t accept that AI companies without a proven business model today need free access to IP. The New York Times is laying out what it expects from AI companies, and I would expect this type of ring-fencing of IP to become common. Companies should be able to know how their content is being used by AI companies and be able to decide if they want their IP being used in this way and if so, how they will be compensated.

News Corp is looking at both sides of the ledger with AI - as a way to generate new profits through licencing and also as a way to cut costs.

The presses are indeed stopping

Newspapers aren’t the only ill part of the print media eco-system but also the physical printing infrastructuve that supports print. In the US, newspaper printing is increasingly concentrated, meaning not only are they less competitive but also that for newspapers, the printing presses are farther away from audiences. It used to be a bit of a media analyst game to predict when the last printed copy of a publication would roll off the presses, but these developments mean that it is likely only a few years off before print becomes uneconomic.

I don’t usually include stories like this in the newsletter, but this story is different for a number of reasons. It is a shocking step by local law enforcement in the Land of the First Amendment, and it is a personal story. I know the owner and editor of the newspaper, Eric Meyer. He taught journalism where I studied as an undergraduate, the University of Illinois. He taught after I had graduated, but we connected when I was working as a regional executive editor at Gannett.

This story is just beyond shocking, and it demonstrates a profound ignorance about journalism, public records and even the laws of the United States. The press, a nearby journalism school and civil liberties groups have all rallied around Eric and his newspaper. I think this is the result of the criminalisation of journalism by political leaders, including former President Trump.