What a veteran journalist learned in launching and scaling a digital start-up

Business launch. An illustration of a man in business casual clothes holding a flag as he stands on a rocket. By Mohamed Hassan/pxhere.com
By Mohamed Hassan / pxhere.com

I often say that in the disrupted media businesses that journalists are all freelancers now, or to put it another, more positive way, we all have to be much more entrepreneurial than we have been in the past. That being said, making the move from being a jobbing journalist into an entrepreneur or business owner can be a major shift.

That is why the top story in my international media newsletter today is an interview with Jeff Kofman, the CEO of Trint. Jeff sums up his journey best:

As a reporter with 30 years in the field as a foreign correspondent, as a war correspondent, I just had no experience building a team, raising money, managing a company. It was an incredibly steep learning curve.

Jeff Kofman on how AI can empower newsrooms , from the Global Editors Network

The service uses AI to automate the laborious process of transcription while also adding searchability and discoverability. I like services like this because I often say that I would rather outsource tasks like this to robots rather than treat journalists like robots. It frees journalists up to add value.

The biggest challenge for media leaders is choosing where they think their journalists add value. This is important in creating a content strategy when we’re trying to determine how to make that value exchange clear so that audiences will become paying members or subscribers.

And in building his company, he has learned this important lesson: Even if you’re competing with much bigger competitors – in his world Google and Microsoft – that there is value in focusing on one task and doing that task incredibly well.

Today’s newsletter is truly international with stories from Europe, Asia and Africa. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please visit my Nuzzel profile page and click on the blue subscribe button. And if you spot a story that you think should be in the newsletter, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal.

Can free iPads help an Arkansas newspaper wean readers off of print?

Apple iPad, by John Karakatsanis, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Hello new subscribers and long-time readers! I’m back after my long bank holiday weekend.

Lots of interesting news over the long weekend, but a story out of the US state of Arkansas caught my eye for my media newsletter today. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which goes out to the entire state, is promising readers that their subscription price will stay the same, $36, but it won’t be coming to them daily in print. The paper will still be printed and delivered on Sunday, but other days, they will have to read it digitally. And to sweeten the offer, the newspaper is offering a free iPad to read the ‘paper’ digitally.

As Rick Edmonds at the Poynter Institute pointed out in the AP story, this has been tried before. It hasn’t been a roaring success.

I think that this might be worth watching because the publisher is going out to civic clubs to make the pitch in person, and the newspaper isn’t just offering a free iPad but also training on how to use the digital edition. Will the personal touch be enough to win over subscribers and return the paper to profit by 2020? It’s one to watch.

If you’d like this story and others daily, you can subscribe to my international media newsletter on my Nuzzel profile page. And please, send along media business stories to me on Twitter, @kevglobal.

How the Seattle Times earned $400,000 from its morning newsletter

H&R Block, from Giphy

Talking about newsletters in my newsletter today. How meta.

But seriously, newsletters are one of the hot topics in media right now because we have so much data on how they are the first step to converting a user to a subscriber. Or, put another way, newsletters are the “zero subscription” as a Google product manager said at the Google News Initiative Summit that I attended in March.

Poytner has a great interview with Kris Higginson, the editor and lead writer for the Seattle Times’ Morning Brief newsletter. Higginson will be leading a seminar on 25 May about developing a successful newsletter at Poynter.

One thing to note: They use Salesforce Marketing Cloud to produce their newsletter. They had been using Mailchimp, which is what a lot of companies, including mine use. Despite the issues always involved in transitioning to a new platform, Salesforce is important to their strategy because:

Marketing Cloud is part of a bigger suite of programs. It lets the business side have more insight into audience behavior. We can see what content drives conversion. We can offer related content based on individual user habits. These abilities underscore our goal of increasing digital subscriptions.

Behind the success of The Seattle Times’ Morning Brief newsletter, by Mel Grau, Poynter

Hello to even more new subscribers. Wahay! And being new here, if you are new here, I want to extend an invitation to pass along interesting reads to me on Twitter, @kevglobal And if you aren’t a subscriber yet, get the full round of interesting in your inbox every weekday by signing up at my Nuzzel profile.

Buzzfeed’s video biz is the black thanks to cross-platform ad deals

Three flower pots with British 10 pound notes in them with a silver water can in front of them.

Pots of money, by Images Money, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

The newsletter continues to grow, and I wanted to welcome new subscribers.

In my international media newsletter today, the top story today looks at how Buzzfeed’s video business is moving towards sustainability by developing cross-platform ad deals. The deals are primarily focused on YouTube and Facebook, but they also sell on SnapChat. The strategy is delivering revenue in the high tens of millions, according to Digiday.

In a note from BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti to staff in March, Peretti said BuzzFeed made $3 million from Facebook platform revenue in the fourth quarter of 2018, and was monetizing 70% of its YouTube video views by the end of last year.

I also highlight a great piece by my friend Esther Kezia Thorpe at What’s New in Publishing about how the BBC with its Good Food magazine is using voice search. “Make something people need.” Great advice for any of your digital efforts.

Thanks for subscribing to the newsletter, and if you haven’t, go to my Nuzzel profile. And feel free to share interesting stories with me @kevglobal on Twitter (and most social networks).

Wired’s EIC Nick Thompson talks one year of the paywall with Media Voices podcast

Paywall, by Giovanni Saccone, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Hello, more new subscribers! It’s great to have you.

In my international media newsletter today, the top story is the latest podcast by my friends at the Media Voices podcast and their interview with Wired Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Thompson.

I am a big fan of him and his work, and I have been following what he has done since he was the digital editor at The New Yorker. One of my favourite quotes from him in a Digiday podcast is that they don’t try to do everything that is possible in digital at The New Yorker but every digital thing that they do is The New Yorker.

Thompson now is the top editor at Wired. He was asked: Why print? “There are wonderful things about a print magazine,” Thompson said, but he said that that as a group, they are mostly focused on digital and started making that transition 15 years ago.

He reprised his recent look back at one year behind a paywall at Wired, which we highlighted here on the newsletter. One thing he noted is that advertising still delivers the vast majority of revenue at Wired.

And he talked about his surprise at the stories that drove the most subscriptions. The long-meaty features drove a lot of subscriptions, but he was surprised that the 65th most read feature about a genius neuroscientist that is driving AI. It didn’t deliver a lot of traffic by their standards, but it was the second most driver of subs last year. But good listicles also drove subs as well.

“In almost every category of content, the best stuff we did drove subscriptions,” he said. “It was a little surprising but also heartening.”

That’s a great insight. It’s not necessarily the format but the execution.

Again, welcome to the new subscribers, and I would love to borrow some of your attention. Drop me an email (there is an address easily findable on this site) or send it via Twitter to @kevglobal If you still haven’t subscribed, you can easily do so on my profile page on Nuzzel.

Washington Post amps up Arc with subscription tools

The Washington Post is supercharging its platform Arc, with a big marketing and development push. Photo: 1941 Willys Americar 441 Coupe Hotrod, by Sicnag, from Flickr

Hello new subscribers! Welcome from Suchandrika Chakrabarti‘s great post on newsletters that freelancers should subscribe to.

Topping today’s newsletter is a story about new subscription features that the Washington Post is building into its CMS, Arc. As I highlighted in a recent newsletter, the Washington Post sees Arc as business that can grow to $100m as it sells the CMS to other publishers. This feels like a major push for Arc.

Also in the newsletter:

If you are just seeing this and haven’t subscribed to the newsletter, sign up here. And please, if you spot a good story – especially a good media story outside of the US – let me know on Twitter @kevglobal.

Swedish publisher built a “time wall” and increased conversion 20%


Clock shop, Siliguri, West Bengal, by Christopher J. Flynn, Wikimedia Commons

One of my next features for What’s New in Publishing will be about different paid content models that tap into motivations beyond metered paywalls. My motivation is that metered paywalls work well for high-volume sites, but I’ve managed local sites for the last several years of my career. And a metered paywall isn’t necessarily the right solution for lower-volume local sites.

That’s why I featured this story from Digiday about MittMedia in Sweden and their “time wall” in my international media newsletter today. The 20 per cent increase in conversions definitely caught my eye. Basically, the idea is that a story is available for free for a limited amount of time.

I also know that paid content services such as LaterPay and Agate, both run by FoK (Friends of Kevin), have other time-based concepts including day-passes, month-passes or all you can eat after you have read a set number of articles on an Agate-enabled site. It’s a great way to get people into the conversion funnel.

A hearty thank you to another FoK, Suchandrika Chakrabarti, who mentioned the newsletter today on Muck Rack, 18 newsletters every freelance journalist needs to subscribe to. It’s always nice to be mentioned in the same article as Nieman Lab and Journalism.co.uk.

And as always, there is plenty more in the newsletter – usually another seven to nine articles. If you want to subscribe, there is a sign up form on Nuzzel profile, and feel free to send along story ideas on Twitter to @kevglobal, especially ones outside of the US.

Choosing the right membership (or subscription) model

Members only, friendly yet authoritative sign, by John Bell, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

As I mentioned yesterday, my friend Suchandrika Chakrabarti has an excellent overview for freelancers on writing your own bio through writing ones for her first year of being freelance.

In addition to that post, the other highlight from my newsletter today is an excellent look at the hottest issues in media right now: Membership and subscriptions. It’s a comprehensive look at various subscription models and services, but they also talk about a membership model in Albany New York. The newspaper there has tiers, “providing options for the customer”, according to Brad Hunt sales and retention manager for Albany (N.Y.) Times Union. “Instead of losing them outright or feeling like we were forcing them to go to a higher frequency in order to get to that gold status, we wanted to provide the means for the customer to choose,” he said.

More tomorrow, and remember, if you want to highlight a story for me, let me know on Twitter @kevglobal.

Austrian Publisher Finds Secret to Video Revenue

The homepage of Austria's Die PresseIn today’s newsletter, we look to Austria. Pivot to video became a much-maligned strategy, especially for digital pure plays that were focused on video as a way to grow organically on Facebook with the idea that they could somehow, some way monetise that audience. Nope. But now, Die Presse in Austria has found some new tricks that are at least driving revenue for their video efforts, Digiday reports. (I’m wary of saying something is profitable just because it earns money.) And that revenue came after six years of losses. Two of the tactics for the turnaround:

  • Autoplay but muted sound
  • They now add video to their own stories as well as licence it elsewhere using video platform Video Intelligence. That increased pre-roll impressions from 300,000 to 31 m.

In the rest of the newsletter, we have:

How Charleston paper grew subs by 250%. The best mobile journalism apps of 2019. The New York Times will sell ads based on the emotional response to an article. Facebook changes the News Feed in attempt to stop disinformation. What revenue streams work?

To get this directly in your inbox, subscribe here.

 

US newspapers lost advertising revenue found

And why the answer to the problem is not about scale. 

Thomas Baekdal compares the decline of advertising revenue for US newspapers with the rising ad revenue of Google and Facebook.

Thomas Baekdal compares the decline of advertising revenue for US newspapers with the rising ad revenue of Google and Facebook. Full post at http://bit.ly/2cLUkYb

Everyone in media in the US saw the graph a couple of years ago showing the cliff that the newspaper industry has fallen off with respect to advertising revenue since the beginning of the first decade of the 21st Century thanks to a simple bit of graphing by Mark J. Perry.

Now, media watchers have added the numbers and shown where that money went. Ben Thompson of the Stratechery blog added in Facebook’s revenue rise to show one reason why newspapers in the US are facing even greater headwinds, even as the US economy starts to show a little more life. Thomas Baekdal took it one step further, adding in Google’s revenue. It almost mirrors the decline of newspaper advertising, although Google’s rise seems a bit steeper.

I want to make an important point, though: Google didn’t actually kill the newspaper advertising market. Google replaced it with an entirely different market. It’s the same money, but Google isn’t in the same market as the newspapers. It instead created its own market and brands decided that was a better place to be.

I would also say that Google, via its Android mobile OS, also shifted its advertising model deftly to mobile. When you combine this graph with Mary Meeker’s graph about the attention minutes that people spend, you see why Google’s growth continues.

Mary Meeker's 2016 comparison between the percentage of time that people in the US spend with their mobile devices and the difference in mobile ad spending. Full presentation available here http://bit.ly/2dE9vUO

Mary Meeker’s 2016 comparison between the percentage of time that people in the US spend with their mobile devices and the difference in mobile ad spending. Full presentation available here http://bit.ly/2dE9vUO

In the US alone, Meeker estimates that there is a $22 b opportunity in the difference between the amount of attention that people are spending with their mobile devices and mobile advertising spend.

But it is not all doom-and-gloom. Baekdal also points out:

This is an incredibly important distinction to understand. Google isn’t winning because it’s big or that it has so much more scale. It’s winning because it created a way for people to have high-intent moments, which brands can reach with their ads.

We have shifted from having a single advertising market (all based on low-intent exposure), to having two different advertising markets… and the media only fits into one of them.

I would counter that the old print mass media fit into the scale model. However, there are many other media businesses that were never about scale, and if you look at some of the models that are showing success, they are about finding a committed niche, whether geographical or topical and serving it well. That might be B2B media, such as Rafat Ali’s travel business focused Skift, which just announced a new vertical to tackle, Chefs & Tech. In Tulsa Oklahoma, The Frontier has 500 subscribers, as of April, willing to pay $30 a month for local investigative journalism. De Correspondent in the Netherlands broke 40,000 subscribers last December.

Of course, this is all about reader revenue, not necessarily how to replace the fat revenue that advertising used to deliver to local newspapers. I don’t think that ad revenue will ever come back so we need to find a new model for local news and information, and I don’t think the answer is scale. Media cannot scale cost effectively to compete with Google and Facebook.

As for new models, maybe we already have one in the US, TV, but that isn’t going to go as deeply local as newspapers once did. But I think we’ll see more experimentation in local news media over the coming years supported by truly local entrepreneurs. But sometimes it’s good to know what isn’t working so you can move on to try other things.