The Future of Publishing: The Paradoxes of the Attention Economy, AI and how Product Management supports Digital Transformation

Sorry for the relative quietness of the newsletter last week, but I was at a Future of Publishing conference in Hungary representing Pugpig, my employer. The panel that I was on was titled "The Future of Publishing: Worst Case Scenarios". Our moderator, Debrenti Félix - Head of International and Institutional Relations, BL Press - chose to focus the questions on future challenges that media will face and the role of new revenue streams. I used to go or speak at future of media conferences all of the time, including when I was at  The Guardian, and we hosted them. But it had been a while since I took part in one, and it gave me a chance to think about the development of digital media historically and also where we find ourselves now. I wrote about it for the weekly newsletter that I do for Pugpig, our Media Bulletin

At the end of the talk, I referred to the famous quote from Steward Brand in his conversation with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak that information wants to be free. I feel the need everytime I hear the quote that it's a de-contextualised partial quote.  

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

For me, this challenges publishers and broadcasters to understand what information is valuable and why. Some of that information will be intelligence that helps people make money or make the right decision, and other content will be emotionally evocative. At this conference, I mentioned that many of the publishers were actually selling belonging to a particular political movement. That might be more relevant to a membership model than a subscription model. 

The Attention Economy and the Paradoxes of Digital Publishing

Preparing for the panel gave me a great opportunity to reflect on where digital media has been and what challenges lie ahead for publishers big and small. One of the common themes of the panels before me was how easy it was to become a digital publisher, and while I agree that it's never been easier to publish content digitally, it has created the paradox that it has become more difficult to monetise. Consumers have never had more choices when it comes to content whether that is on-demand video and audio (both music and podcasts), video games plus endless streams of articles and social media posts. Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon noticed this trend already in the now relatively content-scarce year of 1971, but it gave rise to the concept of the attention economy. Broadly, the idea is that in an era in which information is plentiful, consumers' time and attention becomes a scarce resource. While the democratisation of media as it was described at the conference might seem liberating, that still does not mean that you'll be able to build a successful media business or brand. 

With this oversupply of entertainment and information, it meant that the digital returns for digital businesses were lower than they were for publishers and broadcasters during the era of relative scarcity. It's simple economics, and I used to quote Clay Shirky who said that traditional economics is grounded in the allocation of scarce resources. Abundance breaks things in ways that we don't entirely understand or at least our traditional business models aren't based on. 

And now we have AI which is promising that is promising to be able to generate even more content than before without the intervention of human creators. In some ways, if AI is simply used to create more content more cheaply, it will have the paradoxical impact of adding to the oversupply of content and economically supporting that oversupply by cutting costs. 

Of course, as I pointed out, this generative form of AI is only one application, and smart publishers are using AI for personalisation to increase the relevance of their content and also using it to power dynamic paywalls to tailor offers for their audiences. This paywall technology goes far beyond the old binary of hard and metered paywalls and begins to allow a package to be offered to a wider range of customer segments based on their behaviour. 

Product Management and Digital Transformation

And the panel touched on digital transformation, which I think can be driven by adopting a product management process. In the post for Pugpig, I highlighted a process that we used in working with Foreign Affairs magazine to improve in-app listening for their podcasts. I generalised that process to this:

  1. Start with a goal. 
  2. Determine how to measure that goal and develop KPIs – both editorial and commercial. 
  3. Do audience research to understand why your audience is acting in a certain way. This step is really important. Use that research to inform your product. 
  4. Do user testing before release.
  5. Measure and iterate. 

And we were asked what we thought the biggest challenge would be for publishers in the future. Borrowing from what I learned in my master's in innovation management, I said that the biggest challenge was that digital transformation was not a destination but a journey. They didn't simply want to create a 'fail fast' culture that accepted experimentation but fostered a 'learn quickly' culture that made sure that those experiments built a learning culture that developed agility as a competitive advantage. 

Media companies adjust their subscription strategises as the market turns

INMA's Greg Piechota looks at how media companies are tweaking their subscription strategies as profit margins are squeezed due to rising costs and a decline in advertising. As he points out, increasing subscription prices, which many publishers were doing last year, will not the strategy that allows them to continue to grow or offset their own price rises because customers are feeling the squeeze of inflation too. 

It was quite a day for coverage of how transformative AI is going to be for media. What's New in Publishing has highlighted Nic Newman's predictions about AI in his annual media outlook. And almost if on cue, there were a number of major stories that show how quickly the industry is moving and also start to highlight the guardrails that publishers will need to put in place as they experiment with the technology. 

Greg provides a well-informed look at what publishers are doing as economic indicators flash red. The New York Times is taking the long view and sticking to its strategy of increasing customer value but also growing its returns by building out its subscription bundle. But Greg's analysis shows a widening gap between low-priced, low-retention brands and high-priced, high-retention publishers in the life-time value they can achieve in the coming years. This year will be another turn of the screw in the industry. 

And, as publishers spend more of their time and attention on retention efforts, What's New in Publishing has a review on how to design your onboarding experience. 

The FT Strategies-Minna Technologies report we recently highlighted showed how publishers are pivoting to retention, but in reviewing customer behaviour, they found that audiences, especially younger ones, wanted services to help them manage their subscriptions. The Informed app is offering that service for publishers and has attracted a number of big names including the FT, The Economist, Bloomberg and the New York Times. My sense is that they see this as an on-ramp to their own subscription products. 

The AI revolution is just getting started 

Almost three in 10 of the publishers that Nic spoke to have already integrated AI into their operations, and nearly 40% are conducting some kind of experiments with the technology. And with the attention that ChatGPT has garnered, I would expect this activity to increase dramatically this year, especially with respect to AI fine-tuning subscription offers as publishers look for yield. 

We first started hearing about this major investment a week or so ago, and now it's real. Microsoft had already made a $1bn investment in the non-profit OpenAI, and now, it is more than doubling down. You can imagine a number of AI applications that would enhance Microsoft's offering, but the obvious one is super-charging its Bing search engine. Google has already been reported as seeing this a 'code red' challenge to its business, and it's not as if the search giant isn't working in this space. 

After increasing its transparency around its AI experiments, CNET has pushed pause and with good reason. Its AI is being accused of plagiarism. It would be fascinating to work with the engineers to develop an anti-plagiarism algorithm for an AI. 

While the Creator Economy might be hitting the down slope of the hype cycle, some creators have built new personal media empires, and this is a great case study of how Casey Johnston leveraged short stints in traditional media to build her own brand and business. 

...well, and also a look at how to choose your platform if you are a Revue refugee like I was.

Challenges for audio content creators 

Podcasts swelled its expenses and the revenue hasn't materialised yet from those investments. 

A summary of a report out of the US on creating youth content (often co-creating with them) and how that can build relationships with younger audiences. The challenge is funding. Isn't it always? Sigh. 

Today in the big platforms

A great review of Netflix's challenges and how it has faced them in the past, which shows it might face its current post-pandemic audience challenge. 

I have to admit that I have been toying with whether to cross-publishing our newsletter at Pugpig on LinkedIn. I would be interested to hear your experience of publishing on LinkedIn. 

Meta continues to experiment with the metaverse, and live sports seem as good as any place. I'd be curious to see how this work, but I'm not feeling flush enough to buy the gear to see. 

Content consumption and creation changes: Under 25s turn away from email and new podcast creation plummets

2023 will definitely be a year of transition in media as the economy turns and consumer behaviour changes. Trends that media managers have assumed over the past few years have changed, and as ever, we'll have to learn to adapt. The Verge is reporting that podcast creation plummeted in 2022. We'll get to the reason in a minute. 

Bosses in Davos are saying that their under-25 staff don't do email, which I have seen in the organisation where I work. We use email for external communications, but internally, it's almost exclusively Slack. The question then becomes whether this will impact the efficacy of newsletters or whether this is like my office, a shift in internal comms rather than digital communication in general. 

Semafor co-founder Ben Smith casts an eye over billionaire-owned media. Is this era ending as billionaires' interest and attention shift elsewhere? 

And lastly, if we look back to the middle of the last decade, there was a crop of new media darlings that looked like they would take over as legacy media faltered: Buzzfeed, Vice, Vox and Mic. But how the screw turns! Mic fizzled, and Buzzfeed has struggled mightily since its SPAC. Vox just announced layoffs, and Vice is putting itself on the block at a fraction of the asking price that it did just a few years ago. 


  • Spotify talks about how it uses agile coaches, and it's a great opportunity for media companies to see how innovative tech companies adapt their delivery management practices. 
  • Google shifts its ad ops to third parties as cuts take hold at the company.
  • CNET drops its AI-generated content experiment for now.
  • Jean-Louis Gassée compares the current advances in AI to the dawn of the personal computer era.

Changes in the media market: Consumption, creation and ownership

It says it all in the first few paragraphs. Podcast creation has plummeted by 80% in the last two years. 

Does this mean that Gen Z doesn't do email at all or just not at work? Do they retain the intimacy of the inbox for special communication? Or do they find instant messaging more intimate than email in most of their digital communications? This will take user research to find out. And that is important considering the importance of newsletters as an audience development and engagement tool. Do we need to expand that to channels and tools that resonate more with Gen Z? Good research will help answer that question and help media leaders set priorities. 

A look at the last decade of billionaire media ownership. They still haven't cracked the business model issue. 

More details on Vice looking for a buyer. 

It is interesting to me to find out that Google is willing to outsource such a core part of its business. But with regulators circling, maybe they feel that they don't have a choice. 

It is always instructive when a high-performing tech company pulls back the curtains on how it manages its operations. 

Jean-Louis Gassée compares the current era of AI to the early era of personal computers, and I think it's apt. Just as with the beginning of that era, we have a number of powerful incumbents - Google, Apple, Meta and Amazon - not to mention a number of rising giants in China who are all rushing to take part in the AI boom. It will remake the tech landscape and the geopolitical balance of technology players for decades to come. 

We mentioned this last week, that CNET has been experimenting with AI-generated stories. They have pressed pause after a backlash, but we have had machine-generated journalism for a few years now, and I think the question really is about clear signposting and transparency about the inputs that inform such journalism. 

Changes in journalism: Cuts, the 'Davos problem' and PR outpacing journalism jobs in Canada

Whenever the economy hits a soft patch, there are layoffs in journalism, particularly at outlets that rely on advertising. Ad spend is highly correlated to the economic cycle, and while a number of organisations have insulated themselves to some extent with reader revenue, the drop in a key revenue stream still bites. This leads to a round of self-reflection and some adaptation. 

Vox is the latest media company to announce layoffs. It's partly due to the economic cycle, but I would expect it would also relate to efficiencies that Vox is looking for after its merger with Group Nine. What's interesting about these cuts is that they cut across the business. 

Hand wringing about business journalism in the wake Davos. 

A look at how data journalism is changing journalism. 

This has been a story that has been playing out across journalism and PR for the last 15 years. 

This is a post from 2018. Rafat Ali talks about how to land a job at his latest media startup, Skift, which covers the business of travel. 

Cuts at ‘passion platforms’ Patreon and Substack cast shadow over creator economy

As I write this, I think of the large (but not necessarily deep) cuts happening at tech giants Microsoft, Amazon and Google parent company Alphabet this week, 10,000, 18,000 and 12,000 employers respectively. It is an indication of how much the economy has shifted after the pandemic. But we’re also seeing it at tech firms that touch the media economy with Patreon and Substack making cuts as well, as our first item discusses. 

But the economic picture for media is complicated. Reuters is going to create 100 and relaunch its paywall. Axios Pro and its pricey professional newsletters are off to a strong strait. And non-profit news organisations are earning more with digital advertising. Meanwhile, Vice is trying to sell itself again, but this time the price is dramatically less, although it is still hoping for a nine-figure deal. 

I hope that you’re enjoying the newsletter here on Beehiiv. I’ve still got a little fiddling on the back-end to do, but feel free to drop me an email and let me know what you think and how I can improve it. 

This is a good overview of the layoffs at big tech. As Laura Hazard Owen points out, it must have been a bit chilling for Jeff Bezos to show up in the Washington Post newsroom just after massive layoffs at Amazon. I was having a conversation just yesterday with an astute industry watcher who was wondering whether Bezos has lost interest in owning a newspaper.  

For those journalists who launched their own newsletters or podcasts, Laura also points out - right in the headline - that times might be getting more challenging across these creator or “passion “ platforms. For a lot of journalists who have fled traditional jobs to become solopreneurs, this year will be a time that will test their business hypothesis. 

Reuters’ near-term future just got a little clearer. It already had a 30-year-deal with Refinitiv, of which it was spun out of, for content distribution. The London Stock Exchange Group bought Refinitiv, and now LSEG has expanded their deal with Reuters. It’s good news for job seekers. If they are London-based, the next challenge will be to find someplace to live. 

The devil is in the details on this one, but Axios’ pricey Pro newsletter product is off to a strong start. In its first year, it has generated $2m. As Digiday points out, we don’t know how many of these subs have renewed after the first year, 

All you need to know is that it was shopping itself around for $5.7 bn in 2017. I wonder how the valuation of Buzzfeed is doing? 

The Media Briefing highlights how some publishers are pushing their events back to later in the year in the hopes that the economy will improve. This is the second story that I’ve seen about this so I expect the events industry to be a little quieter in the first half of this year. 

A good piece in Adweek looking at how nonprofit newsrooms are starting to win more digital advertising. It’s important to have diversified revenue sources. The important thing will be to track these figures as the economy moves through this cycle. 

A mini-social media roundup

Twitter’s chaos seems almost designed to run it into the ground, and now we hear - not unsurprisingly - that it’s driving even less traffic to news sites. And the BBC pivots to TikTok after keeping its distance. That’s intriguing. 

Why and when journalism leaders decide to go

The Reynolds Journalism Institute has an interesting piece filled with interviews with journalism leaders about why thy decided to step down when they did. You’ve got the founder of the Texas Tribune and VTDigger (a great indie news site in Vermont) as well as the former leader at ProPublica. It’s interesting and also highlights the importance of succession planning. 

And we have an interesting piece of industry news with the US head of digital journalism for the BBC deciding to jump ship less than four months after he started. Did he just get an offer he couldn’t refuse or is there something else going on at the Beeb? 

Trust in Journalism low, and how to improve that

Edelman’s annual trust barometer shows that journalists are amongst the least trusted people. With the constant verbal attacks that high profile leaders around the world have levelled at the profession, it’s easy to see why. And I applaud people like Nic Newman at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in calling on journalists to wrestle with how to improve trust. 

I think that the Washington Post, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune offered up one way to build trust by hosting an AMA on Reddit about an investigation that they just finished into the school shooting at Uvalde in Texas last May in the US. It’s a great and human way to explain the choices that journalists make. Bravo. 

Publishers look past crypto and the metaverse as they embrace AI PLUS How YouTube has become the preferred platform for podcasters

Today, we take a look at what comes next in innovation at media groups, what technologies are being passed over and what technologies and formats media companies are investing in. As Chris Sutcliffe writes in his summary of the Media Moments 2022 report, the media is experiencing its own crypto winter as money flows out of this risky, speculative asset class as the era of easy money and pandemic stimulus packages end.

What is very much on the innovation for 2023 is AI and short-form video, and Digiday highlights how Betches Media is leaning into their success. And Chinese internet giant Tencent is trying to play catchup and develop a response to TikTok. 

Plus, we look at how YouTube is becoming a major platform for podcasters, and how a newsletter for how to live inexpensively in London grew its audience. With the cost of living crisis really biting not only Londoners but everyone in the UK, it seems to be at the right place and the right time. 

And don't miss an interesting proposal for the future of Twitter. A hybrid cooperative run as a B corp social enterprise? 

Chris has some solid numbers here about how the Meta is simply not hitting its numbers when it coes to the Metaverse, despite aggressive advertising and promotion. And he also has a rundown of how far NFTs have fallen, although he expresses cautious optimism that their is still room for innovation. 
However, the area where he see the most investment and interest is AI. 

Speaking of AI, Brian Morrissey offers up some predictions. Marketing and advertising copy will go first he says. Search will become a mess, but he also sees AI as continuing to rebalance power from institutions to individuals. I'm not so sure about the creator economy getting a boost from that, but AI will definitely be a key area of technological development and disruption. ChatGPT is just the beginning, and investment will flow into this area as major players look to ensure that they are as dominant in the future as they have been in the past.  

Speaking of AI, transparency will be a major issue. CNET has been experimenting with it, but some have accused the tech site of not being clear on what it was doing. It's trying to do that now. 

YouTube as a podcast platform should not be a surprise, and Morning Consult has some fascinating numbers that show a complicated picture of the relationship between video and podcast listening. 

The idea is so simple: A newsletter full of free events for people in London. I remember back in the day in Washington DC that there was something similar - a happy hour listing where unpaid or low-pad interns could get free snacks with their drinks. Note, word of mouth has been important but so has good, old local BBC radio. The relationship between emerging and traditional media often has a symbiotic element. 

Developments in vertical, short-form video

The story about Betches Media, which is focused on serving young women, is another data point about the importance of YouTube. They are experimenting with YouTube Shorts. Why? Because it ties into their podcast strategy. I spot a trend. 

And not only is Tencent placing a big bet on social video, newsletter startup Morning Brew just bought Our Future because it gives them a foothold in short-form video. 

Industry news: A mixed bag of growth and inflation-fuelled losses

When we put together our State of the Digital publishing report at Pugpig, we heard a lot of stories about increased costs, and that is playing out as media groups report their results. DC Thomson and National World both saw increases in revenue, but increased energy and paper costs have taken a bite of healthy revenue as pandemic lockdowns ended. 

Twitter as a social enterprise? And what next for your career

This an interesting proposal for a hybrid-cooperative model: a social enterprise. The one major hitch that I see is the sums that would be required to buy out Musk and his backers. However, as he drives the company into the ground, creditors may be willing or be forced to accept pennies on the dollar. 

As media jobs become not only rarer but also the path to senior roles becomes more difficult, a former BBC journalist discusses how to make a personal pivot in 2023. 

Publishers shift their attention to retention PLUS WAN-IFRA

Welcome to the new look newsletter on a new platform, Beehiiv. A big thanks to Esther Kezia-Thorpe at Media Voices for helping me narrow down which newsletter platform to choose. I could tell when we were doing our State of the Digital Publishing Report at Pugpig that we were on the cusp of a new tack strategically for media as the economic cycle was turning. As looks ahead, predictions and forecasts come out for 2023, subscriber retention has shot to the top of many lists. FT Strategy found that retention is the top priority for 68% of the subscription businesses that they spoke to, according to What's New in Publishing. 

On that theme, WAN-IFRA looks at the playbook that the Star-Tribune in the US has for retaining its subscribers. They have focused on getting email contacts for their subscribers, and they focus on getting their subscribers to renew that first time. 

Plus, INMA looks at the product priorities of publishers and finds that personalisation and new content format intended to engage audiences are high on the list. So much of what publishers are focused on relates to efforts to engage and retain audiences. 

And we have a brief social media platform roundup with a look at the expected impact of a new online safety bill in the UK and the most recent ructions at Twitter, where it has become clear that they shut off API access to certain third-party apps. 

As I settle in with Beehiiv, things might change a bit over the coming weeks. If you have any suggestions please feel free to drop me an email or message on Twitter @kevglobal. Thanks for coming along for the move. 

George Adelman, Principal, FT Strategies in a new report, says that we're entering a third phase of the subscription economy, according to a summary from What's New in Publishing. Beginning around the turn of the century, subscriptions began to take hold, and then he points to COVID as a period that drove subscriptions. Now, we are entering the retention phase. 

The retention phase will likely be one in which consumers will be more reserved about their spending and will be more likely to jump from one subscription to another to find the best fit for their needs.

They have aligned the organisation around the goal of getting new subscribers to renew for the first time. That is the best indicator of whether they will develop a long-term relationship with a subscriber, and they frequently reinforce the quality and effort of their content. Email is a key component, and they send content-led emails twice a month to try to re-engage inactive subscribers. 

Social Media Roundup: Platforms prep for fallout from UK online safety bill, and Twitter shuts off API to some apps

The FT (£) looks at how social media platforms are preparing for a new online safety bill in the UK. They are expecting to see a drop in users due to the bill. 

This weekend my wife was upset because Tweetbot, which she uses to manage tweets for her business went offline. It was no accident John Gruber of Daring Fireball says as he refers to internal Slack messages first reported by The Information that show that this was a deliberate move by Elon Musk's Twitter. 

Social Media Today says that Tweebot and Twitterific were two of the apps affected by the API change. Twitter under Musk continues to make erratic moves with little communication with partners or customers. 

The developer community has been highly critical of Twitter’s actions, which it says are unprofessional and represent ‘an unrecoverable breach of trust between it and its developers and users’.

Finding My Professional Tribe

I am in a reflective mood, not because it is the start of a new year or a new decade, but because a big part of my life and my Sir Izacat Mewtonwife’s life – our beloved Sir Izacat Mewton, a big cuddly tom, passed unexpectedly right before Christmas. We just buried him, and we are grieving. He was 10 and a half years old, far too young, and this more than anything in the calendar is pulling us back through a decade of memories with him and our lives together.

Ten years ago, we went to Lanzarote for New Year’s. I was still at The Guardian, serving as the digital research editor, and I hadn’t yet decided to take voluntary redundancy, a buyout.

The first 10 years of this century had been an amazing decade for me professionally. I started it working at the Washington bureau of the BBC, and then after blogging the 2004 US elections, I transferred to London to write a strategic white paper for the BBC on how it should respond to blogs and podcasts. And in 2006, I left the BBC to join The Guardian.

I was often restive during this period, trying to find a way forward professionally in a world where digital journalism career paths were about blazing new trails but didn’t have a clear or clean progression.

Kevglobal Goes Global

Not long after the New Year a decade ago, I decided to take VR (a buyout) from The Guardian. I didn’t really have a plan, but I wanted the freedom to explore. And over the past decade explore I did. I spent a good chunk of the last decade building my own business, working with dozens of media companies and non-profits in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. I trained thousands of journalists in digital journalism skills including social media, data journalism long-form storytelling as well as audience development and engagement. I worked with Al Jazeera journalists before and during the Arab Spring, and in one of my proudest moments, I worked with Tunisian journalists as they prepared to cover their first free and fair elections in three decades in 2011. I was a guest lecturer at Oxford University and LSE, and in 2017, I wrote a report on innovation management at media companies for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford.

In between working for myself, I held various full-time positions, as an editor and digital strategist with the Media Development Investment Fund, as a regional executive editor for Gannett and now as a digital managing editor with ideastream, a large regional public media group in the US.

Even friends said that I didn’t seem to have a sense of what I wanted to do. I have always wanted to create the future of media. But as for so many journalists over the past decade, my different jobs weren’t so much of a career journey as they were a forced march. With the changes in media, roles simply weren’t durable. In my last role in newspapers with Gannett, I joke that I survived the first six rounds of cuts in the 21 months I had my role but not the seventh.

With my current role in public media in the US, I have finally had the gift of stability, and I have had the opportunity within my role to plot a future. It has given me time to think about what I want to do and where the most exciting and promising future lies for me.

Over the past decade, I have discovered an entrepreneurial passion and drive that I didn’t know I had, and I have become fascinated with not only product development but also with organisational dynamics. How can I help the organisations that I work for manage change? That has been one of the constant themes of my work, and I hear it from my team at work and the teams that I have worked with during my consulting.

This is what I want to do: Develop products for changing markets and help companies re-orient themselves towards these new market opportunities. I have been developing products for more than a decade, but I know I need new skills to help organisations adapt. That’s why today I’m starting a master’s degree with the University of York in innovation management and leadership. I’m so excited to be able to do this while I continue working. I’ll be learning new skills and also being able to apply those skills in my day-to-day work.

Quartz to kill its chatbot-inspired mobile app

Graffiti of a sad robot with his head hanging down
20150225 02 Sad Robot, by David Wilson, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Top of today’s newsletter: Quartz is killing its Brief app, which emulated a chatbot but was really driven by editors giving you the impression of personalisation. The emoji-filled app, allowed users to get a quick taster before deciding whether you wanted to skip the story, get a chatbot-style summary or the full story from the source – often the BBC, Reuters, the New York Times or other outlets.

I profiled the app in my Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report – Beyond the Article, Frontiers of Editorial and Commercial Innovation – on innovation and product management in 2017. Quartz originally launched with a responsive site and was very focused on serving mobile audiences while not having a mobile app. This was after the first wave of apps when a lot of news organisations launched apps but quickly found that they lost the attention wars to social media or other apps.

Quartz had decided to join the second wave of apps after realising that they wanted to get onto the lock screen of mobile users as notification use exploded. The app was really a Marmite one – people either loved it or hated it. I liked its earlier, more playful iterations. I often used an example of one of the chatbot lines as the way to write creative, audience catching push notifications. The notification was about a pop-sci story about how female Orcas that had just passed out of calving age. Quartz’s writers teased you in with the line: Menopausal sharks are bad ass. Click! Click! Click!

The Digiday story tried to read the tea leaves on why they killed the app. Was it the loss of editor Adam Pasick to the New York Times? Quartz says no. Was it the fact that the Japanese company that bought Quartz has its own news app, NewsPicks? Probably, but more than likely, it had a cult following. These days in digital media, unless you operate at a certain niche scale, small cult-ish devotion isn’t enough.

In the end, I think this probably sums up the apps death:

“Some people loved it!” one former employee said. “Just not hundreds of thousands of people.”

Quartz is shutting down its Quartz Brief mobile app July 1, by Max Willens, Digiday

To be perfectly honest, I used to get pulled in by the notifications. Then they became a little more pedestrian, and I turned them off when I was on holiday. And I never felt compelled to turn them back on, and then I can’t remember the last time I opened the app.

A couple of other notable items in the newsletter today:

And please help me sort through all of the British PM race and Trump noise right now by sending me media news of note. Drop them to me at @kevglobal on Twitter.

Pivot to paid driving pivot to CRM for media companies and start-ups

Fork in the road Gypsy lane to the left, Brobury Lane to the right. by Jonathan Billinger, Wikimedia Commons, Some Rights Reserved

I had to do some digging into the stories that my network was sharing today to find this gem about Pico, one of a number of media services providers that are pivoting to provide customer relationship management (CRM) services. It may be at the bottom of the list of headlines in my newsletter today, but it tops my list in terms of personal interest.

The profile of Pico by Nieman Lab got my attention because it is connected to the conversion funnel work that I’m doing in my day job. Beginning in 2017 as I was doing more and more consulting work with media companies in Europe and Asia, I realised how important conversion funnels were as more companies shifted to paid strategies. If I had studied marketing rather than journalism, conversion funnels would be old hat, but they were something that I stumbled upon as my work with audience engagement shifted to audience development and flowed naturally to conversion to paying customers.

Back to Pico. The company started out as a micro-payments provider called PennyPass. Micro-payments (think iTunes for news – garf!) didn’t really convert many readers to subscribers, but founders Jason Bade and Nick Chen realised that that they had collected a lot of leads during the pilot.

What publishers really needed was a funnel to some sort of reader revenue, and we had been too prescriptive about that type of reader revenue.

Pico wants to inject CRM smarts into news sites hungry for reader relationships, by Christine Schmidt, Nieman Lab

Now, they are building propensity to subscribe models as well as handling a lot of other “customer-relations stuff”. They connect Mailchimp or another email service and a payment service like Stripe and link the data flowing through the site and these other platforms.

But Pico isn’t the only company making this pivot. GroundSource, which started as an SMS-based engagement platform; Steady, which grew out of KrautReporter in Berlin; and the News Revenue Hub are all shifting to this space.

Pico just landed a $4.5m funding round that includes money from Stripe and Bloomberg Beta so they have some runway to find the right model.

I would say for the public service broadcaster that I work for, we’re looking for something that integrates more effectively with other software services that we’re currently using to allow us to segment more effectively, especially when it comes to knowing who is a member and who isn’t when it comes to the users of our digital services. We believe that would be transformative for our business.

Fascinating stuff, and if you see a story that you think I should share with my readers, let me know @kevglobal on Twitter.

A deep dive into Schibsted’s plan for $115m in reader revenue by 2020

Departure hall at Bergen Railway Station, Norway. Neon sign with logo of newspaper Bergens Tidende.
Departure hall at Bergen Railway Station, Norway. Neon sign with logo of newspaper Bergens Tidende, by Wolfmann, Wikimedia Commons, Some Rights Reserved

The top story in the newsletter today is a look at Scandi media giant Schibsted’s march to 1 bn NOK ($115m) of reader revenue by next year.

You need to read this piece because it challenges conventional wisdom and explains some of the thinking behind Schibsted’s nuanced and data-informed strategy. Their strategy has changed over time and is flexible enough to make allowances for the audiences and positioning of their different properties.

In terms of how their reader revenue strategy has evolved, it started simply by trying to grow their paying audiences when it launched in 2017, and then as they built the customer base, they pivoted to customer retention. And now, they are focused on “pricing, packaging, user experience and additional products, all the while keeping a steady hand on churn”.

What is really impressive is how adaptable and flexible their thinking is. They eschew the one-size-fits-all model that can be the reflexive response by some large groups. In that model, they run the same playbook everywhere. One gets the impression that this is to control costs because they don’t have the resources for multiple strategies tailored for different products.

For Schibsted, they have different models for their high volume tabloids – VG and Aftonbladet. Those properties remain mostly ad-supported. The reader revenue component is mainly to do with premium content. But for a local title, Bergens Tidende, up to 70% of the content is behind the paywall.

But they are also adding information into their model about stories that converted users to subscribers in the past. Very smart and well worth your time.