Info

A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts from the Publishing Category

Techmeme

Has our lust for innovation made us move on from ideas too quickly? I’ve been mulling that over for most of the day, since I read Charlie Wurzel’s long piece on Gabe Rivera and Techmeme. Unless you’re a blogger of a certain vintage, you’re probably thinking “who?” right now. And that’s fine – he runs a niche site, but a hugely influential niche site:

Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai are both confessed readers, as are LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, former PayPal exec and current Facebook Messenger head David Marcus, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Hunter Walk, a former product manager at YouTube turned seed-stage venture capitalist, told me he checks the site three to five times daily. “It’s one of my first morning sites,” he told me over email. “My perception is that lots of us [in Silicon Valley] use it.”

Techmeme is that most-old fashioned of digital things, an aggregator. It makes editorial decisions with algorithmic support over what the most important stories of the day are – and then links to all the discussion around that core story. That combination – of ranking and connection – is utterly compelling and all too little replicated anywhere else.

There are many people trying to find ways of surfacing the “best” or “most important” stories of the day – usually through algorithms, although I still favour the human-curated element through either newsletters or (whisper it) blogs. In many ways, it’s the second element of Techmeme – that’s so interesting – connecting together the conversations.

Conversational connectivity

Techmeme at work

In digital content circle, we talk a lot about “content atomisation”, the idea that the publishing packages of the past have been atomised into individual articles found via search or social. In a sense, what Techmeme does is reconnect those atoms into molecules of news, allowing you to track not just the most popular articles, but to explore the interconnections between them and other articles, which respond to them or follow them up. Thos connections both inform the ratings, but also guide to the reader into the broader context of the story.

It’s such a compelling idea that I’m surprised that nobody is really working on it in any other way. A decade back, the blog platform makers were really interested in connecting up conversations online. That led to the advent of standards like Trackback and Pingback, both of which got steadily buried under ever-increasing volumes of spam. And, to add to the woes, much of the discussion around any single article is now buried away in private spaces like Facebook.

But still, it seems a strange gap in the technology of the web that it’s surprisingly hard for the casual reader to easily find responses and follow-ups to something they’ve read.

And, it seems to me, that such a system might be a very handy tool in the war on intentionally misleading news.

The Telegraph on Apple News

The Telegraph is seeing substantial reader growth – from Apple News:

For The Telegraph, Apple News has become the most effective third-party platform at driving readers to its own sites and app — where it can eventually turn them into subscribers.

(Note the contrast here to Facebook, which is doing everything it can to keep you in the Instant Articles walled garden.)

Two anecdotes that seem to bear this out:

  1. I’m getting about an extra day’s worth of traffic a week from Apple News (you can sub to One Man & His Blog there, should you wish.)
  2. My wife – a Facebook refusenik – now uses Apple News as her major news-reading interface.

Something’s happening here.

The Need for Notifications

Another interesting point in the piece:

“The main growth has been driven by the iOS10 update and a combination of our new strategy,” said Bridge. Several publishers recorded traffic increases since the iOS10 update last year, partly because of the introduction of notifications. “In the modern age, people look to consume content through notifications. That doesn’t mean they will always open them and click through.”

For breaking news – you need to have a notification strategy, but one that doesn’t get your notifications switched off.

Issue 16 of Offscreen magazine is now available. It’s a beautiful print magazine all about the digital industry, which I’ve been happily reading for the last couple of years. If you’re interested in online, but still a lover of great print magazines, it’s well worth a look. (I mentioned it in passing a few months back.)

The new issue is a complete redesign, and the editor Kai Brach supported himself through the redesign and rebrand phase, via crowdfunding (I was a backer). And this is how it looks:

Offscreen 16 cover

Offscreen 16 laid flat

A typical Offscreen spread

Here’s what’s different:

Both the website and the magazine have undergone a complete visual overhaul. The new design comes with a lighter footprint, thanks to simplified typography (just one type family), more white space, a brighter colour scheme, and quirky, hand-drawn illustrations by Agnes Lee that add a personal touch.

We made the new issue a little smaller so it feels even more like a book. Instead of the standard Perfect Binding that makes the magazine hard to keep open, Offscreen now has an open, lay-flat stitch binding that offers an improved reading experience.

I should get my copy sometime next week. You can grab your copy from the Offscreen website (and you can sign up for a subscription, too), or buy it in person via specialist magazine stores like Magculture in London or Magazine Brighton.

There’s a new journalism aggregator in town, called Compass – and it’s attempting to be a Netflix for news.

Compass News - the app

Isolde Walters spoke to Matilde Giglio about the subscription-based app:

It’s a bit like your Facebook timeline but instead of that girl you used to go to school with who is in the Caribbean yet again and endless dog videos, it’s all serious quality journalism. Maybe a little too serious. One criticism I would make is the selection of heavy political and economic news did make me feel like I was running through the reading list of a PPE undergrad. I’d recommend a little thoughtful fluff – I’m a big believer in fluff – to add a little glamour and human interest to the mix.

That’s a smart insight. Any product like this that only surfaces serious news will fail, because the market for serious news and only serious news is too damn small. Can you show me any major newspaper or magazine that doesn’t have a lighter element? Chances are if you can, it’s a “need” publication – trade press, scientific journals – rather than a choice publication.

A Netflix for news could work. But a Netflix for only serious news? Never.

A little context here: there have been numerous efforts to build something like this before. They’ve been described, variously, as “an iTunes for news” or a “Spotify for news“. We’re on to “Netflix for news” now. There was News International’s much-rumoured attempt to build an iTunes for news, before abandoning it and going for paywalls. There’s Blendle which is still around. There’s magazine subscription apps like Issuu.

I suspect they struggle because they’re caught between the opposing poles of loyalty to a particular news brand (through political, cultural or geographic affiliation) and the free flow of news through Facebook and Twitter. Best of luck to Compass – they’ll need it.

The New York Times has redesigned the opening spread of the print edition to make it more of a digest of everything the outlet is doing across all media. So, yes, that include capturing the best of its journalists’ tweetstorms on there. Laura Hazard Owen interviewed Jake Siverstein who led the design work:

But we also recognized that there were some important functions this page could play — not only warming people up but offering a dashboard of the huge scope of activity that’s going on in the world of The New York Times on any given day. That scope has expanded in recent years to take in not only what’s happening in the print paper and videos and podcasts and various institutional social media accounts, but also our live journalism, and all of our journalists’ own social media accounts.

This is a tentative step in the direction pint newspapers will need to move if they are to survive, in the era of 24/7 online news. Once you acknowledge that the print edition is no longer the “breaking news” vehicle, but, essentially, a daily summary of what you need to know, then you can design outwards from that idea.

Why newspapers should take design cues from magazines

Interestingly, Silverstein comes from the New York Times Magazine (he’s editor-in-chief) – and this is much more magazine thinking than newspaper thinking. Silverstein again:

Part of the goal was to create something that was entirely visible in one open spread of the newspaper, that used some of the rhythm and pacing and design of a magazine front-of-book — the difference being that the whole front-of-book is laid out before you turn any pages, so your eyes can wander around small content and small features, latch on to one thing and then drift over to the next thing. There’s something leisurely and pleasurable about that. It’s kind of an appetizer course before you get to the rest of the paper.

And that’s what print newspapers are becoming: daily magazines.

A prominent YouTuber has lost a lucrative contract:

Since August, PewDiePie has posted nine videos that include anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery, according to a review of his channel by The Wall Street Journal.

On Monday after the Journal contacted Disney about the videos, the entertainment giant said it was severing ties with Mr. Kjellberg, who as PewDiePie rose to prominence via clips of himself playing videogames or performing skits and making crude jokes.

What’s interesting about this is that a single YouTuber has reached enough prominence that their deals with major corporations warrant the attention of the Wall Street Journal.

Significant enough, in fact, that they pushed out out as a notification:

PewDiePie WSJ push notification

YouTubers are still a massively under-discussed part of the modern media business landscape.

Interesting analysis of Medium’s audience from Frederic Filloux, which I missed last month:

This is both good and bad news. On the plus side, Medium mostly addresses the tech elite. This is a premium audience, attracted by quality, more likely to pay for information; on the supply side, publishers on Medium are more likely to go for a revenue sharing coming from subscriptions, as opposed to see their beloved publication infested with toe fungus ads.

On the minus side, as opposed to Buzzfeed, for instance, Medium is not a mass/general public destination, and will never be, even if it claims 60 millions monthly unique readers. This puts a ceiling on its potential for advertising growth — anyway a broken model, according to Ev Williams.

This throws some interesting light on recent moves at Medium.

John Battelle thinks we actually figured out online publishing a decade ago – and then we screwed it up. How? We handed power to the social networks:

Again, for emphasis: despite all the whizzy bang-y social media we’ve invented these past ten years, I HAVE NOT ONE CLUE WHO IS READING ME ON A REGULAR BASIS, NOR DO I KNOW WHO TO THANK FOR SENDING THEM TO ME.

And in the pre-social media, blogs and websites days, we did. Why does this matter?

This is the single most immutable rule of media, folks. PUBLISHING IS COMMUNITY. And if you don’t know who your community is, you’re screwed.

Ever since Ghost – the lightweight publishing platform – looked like it would actually happen, co-founder John O’Nolan has been talking about it facilitating journalism. And he’s been putting Ghost’s resources where his mouth is – several students of mine have had free Ghost(pro) accounts for the length of their studies, and one group ran a site on it for the (now defunct) online journalism module at City.

Ghost is taking that commitment a whole step further, as they announced today, with Ghost for Journalism:

Journalism by Ghost

We’ve created the very first Ghost Journalism Development program to find and work with three great new publications.

Our goal is to find three fantastic new publishers to work with and help them grow their audiences throughout 2017, as we build out these features (and others) explicitly around their needs. In addition, we’ll be offering up $45,000 in Ghost(Pro) credit, along with access to our internal tools, data, and technology partners.

This is basically an offer to become your hosting and technology team for a year, for free. That’s your second biggest cost – after people – out of the equation for the first year of a journalism startup. That’s huge.

Scaring up some revenue for journalism

What’s the other major problem with a journalism startup? Revenue, of course. That’s why Medium is taking a step back to explore it – and Ghost wants to work with its partners in this scheme to help figure out some useful models. And they’re willing to put development time behind it. The major next step in the platform’s development is around making money from your content.

Ghost has three priorities:

  1. Memberships: Logged-in experiences for visitors & better data for publishers
  2. Subscriptions: Content delivered directly to readers, wherever they are
  3. Payments: Integrations to allow publishers to build new revenue models

All three of these are direct revenue models that could potentially help support niche sites – and the future is niche sites, unless you have truly massive scale. I’ve been planning a switch to Ghost for a while, and this is even more of an incentive for me to just get on with it. I’ve been keen to launch a membership model for this site, providing deeper analysis for busy people in journalism, in a model not unlike that of Ben Thompson’s Stratechery – which i subscribe to and read avidly – and this has the potential to turn Ghost into a one stop shop for those sorts of business models.

Why is Ghost getting itself enmeshing in one of the biggest challenges for journalism in such a public way? I asked John, and this is what he said:

So many reasons. But really it all boils down to one core truth: No amount of features or good design for a platform matter if journalists aren’t getting paid.

Can’t argue with that.

By no means am I suggesting that we have the all in one solution to fixing that problem, but providing a platform which independent journalists can build on top of to easily take payments directly – is solid a prerequisite to anything else.

Being able to build something like TheInformation or Stratechery is something which should be widely available, easy to set up, and free from the impending fear of a VC-backed overlord shutting it down. That’s the goal 🙂

Indeed, the aim of building something new – with new revenue models – pretty much demands that you adopt a really tight approach to costs. And if what you’re selling is content – and the intelligence that underlies it – technology’s main job is to facilitate that, not to be a competitive advantage that you spend huge sums on developing. That’s a mistake we need to stop making.

The sort of journalism Ghost is looking for

If you’re interested, here’s the sorts of startups they’re looking for:

  • Local, political, social, cultural and investigative reporting
  • Scientific, economic and philosophical analysis
  • Journalism about journalism (ooo meta)
  • Memberships, subscriptions & audience engagement
  • New revenue models for journalism
  • Use of emerging tech like chatbots, data, VR & APIs

Don’t hang around though – you’ve got around a month – but it looks like people have been pretty interested in the announcement:

Once you’ve got an idea and team, applications close on February 15th.