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

Posts tagged monetisation

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.

Yesterday, the news broke that Medium has shifted direction, and is laying off some people, and bashed out a quick post. With a night’s sleep (but not a good one, thanks to my youngest…) behind me, I have a slightly more nuanced take, partly informed by some Twitter conversations this morning. Anyone in the journalism industry should probably regard this as very good news.

Why? well, on the surface, this is only good news. On one hand, Medium is walking away from the traditional, tired and possibly dried up model of content platforms past:

  • Build a platform
  • Attract creators
  • Creators attract audiences
  • Monetise the audience via ads

That’s been the model of Blogger and Twitter, Ev Williams’s previous two businesses – and pretty much every other free-to-use content platform out there, including Facebook and YouTube. Medium is explicitly rejecting that approach. It’s led us too far down the route of clickbait, to desperately woo the vast traffic numbers needed to make non-niche advertising plays work. And given that Facebook and Google are eating the vast majority of the advertising revenue out there, it really doesn’t leave much for the rest of us.

It’s nice to see a platform backing away from these quality-eroding approaches. As Marketing Land is reporting, Medium has killed its Promoted Stories feature:

Medium introduced Promoted Stories in April as a way for the platform and publishers, like The Awl, The Bold Italic and Pacific Standard, that call Medium home to make money. Advertisers would pay to have their own Medium posts placed at the bottom of those publishers’ Medium posts. Brands like Bose, SoFi and Intel were among the first to buy Medium’s ad product, but it’s unclear how Promoted Stories performed and whether the ad format could lay the foundation for a sustainable revenue stream. Based on Williams’ blog post, it seems to have laid the wrong foundation.

In essence, it has done away with the Taboola and Outbrain-style links at the ends of posts that are steadily turning even the most upmarket site on the web into a funnel to crap content. So far, so good.

A content monetization lab?

On the other hand, Medium is leaning into a new concept for content monetisations. As Nic Newman put it:

The problem, which I focused on in the previous post, is that they don’t seem to know how to do this.

I tend towards the skeptical – if only because Ev William’s two previous ventures have ended up following the ads model for monetization, be it Google ads on Blogger blogs or promoted Tweets infecting your stream. Indeed, he struggled to turn both products into viable businesses. He has a much stronger record in product innovation than business model innovation – and that latter’s what’s needed here.

However, Williams has palatable got better over the years at surrounding himself with bright people who can solve problems. The Ev Williams of 2016 is much more likely to pull this off than his decade-younger self was for Twitter. Newman again:

That’s the nub of this announcement – by shedding sales and support staff that were aligned towards a traditional business model approach, Medium is essentially doing two things:

  1. Opening up the organisation’s mind to new approaches to making money
  2. Extending its funding runway, but dropping its biggest single cost – salaries – by ⅓.

The latter of those two essentially facilitates the former. It’s going to be much harder to get investment for a platform whose entire strategy is based around a brand new monetization approach. Making the most of the money they already have will be critical in taking the time they need to figure out this new model – if they can.

Exploring platform and business innovation

This is just what we need right now – a business run by tech savvy people who are essentially experimenting with both publishing platforms – and Medium is a great one, especially compared to the abominations that pose as CMSes in many publishers – and in business models. Since Medium moved away from its role as a “platisher” – combined publisher and platform – by shedding its content assets and doubling down on being a platform, it’s not longer directly a threat, either.

We should – and I include myself in that – want this to succeed. We need more viable content business models, and a content-neutral, platform-derived one might be very useful indeed.

As I said yesterday, interesting times. But times most certainly worth watching very carefully.

Jessica Davies:

BuzzFeed’s shift to video is taking hold in its U.K. operations. The digital media company is doubling the size of its London office so it can house two new studios with a particular focus on sponsor video.

The goal: to bring all video production made on behalf of U.K. advertisers in-house.

So, it’s all ads rather than editorial video – but it’s a telling sign of how important video is becoming to monetising content. And another step in Buzzfeed’s shift towards video.

Here’s a photo of my morning workstation:

iPad and Mac in ad-blocking scandal

On the left, my iPad happily showing a news story about the presidential debates from last night – and the #kenbone hashtag in particular.

On the right, my MacBook Pro showing the same story – except it’s been blocked by anti-adblocking tech.

This is what is says:

Ad Blocker Blocked

The irony?

The iPad has an ad blocker installed.

The Mac doesn’t.

In their haste to punish people blocking ads, Deadline is actually excluding genuine visitors. And therein lies the problem with “ad blocker sniffing” tech – it doesn’t always work, and sometimes it throws false positives. And it inadvertently left me wondering if maybe I should have an ad blocker on my Mac, too.

This arms race will not end well for publishers.

Interesting observation from Antony Mayfield (who is finally blogging again):

[The audience’s] antipathy to advertising in general (witness ad-blockers and the rise of ad-free streaming) may present indies with their biggest opportunities in the branded content market: they are able to produce high quality content and are more likely to be interested in audience development than reach (the latter being the default obsession of firms with advertising DNA).

While Antony is talking about branded content, the point is more widely applicable. The rise of social as a major traffic generator has led to reach being a metric being more actively discussed by journalistic publishers – and it’s not always a healthy process. As a profession, we’re relatively immature in our use of analytics, and it’s easy to get distracted from creating value for a worthwhile reader base by the shining lights of huge reach numbers.

There’s only room for a small number of high volume, high reach ad-supported media companies, and unless you’re already close to, say, Mail Online‘s scale, you’re probably not joining that club. And so you’re better off letting go of the sweet seduction of big numbers, and paying a lot more attention to developing a valuable audience you can monetise in a variety of ways.

What happens when you have a video go seriously viral?

A media frenzy ensued and ultimately Kim’s video was seen by tens of millions of people around the world. A slew of news organisations sought Kim’s permission to use the footage, many of them offering money for an exclusive deal. She signed a contract with one of them, a company called ViralHog. That agreement meant that Kim was no longer deluged with direct requests for the footage – ViralHog took on the job of fielding them. It also earned Kim “tens of thousands” of dollars, she says.

Ethics get steamrollered by reality: someone will make money off the video – it might as well be the person who recorded it. But they need assistance to do so.

Om Malik on the rise of the free contributor churnalism factories:

In an era of Medium, LinkedIn and Quora, I wonder if we need media companies to bastardize their brands, especially as it becomes increasingly obvious that all traffic doesn’t translate into dollars. Traffic-driven monetization can’t be amiable strategy for anyone. So instead of opening their platform to all comers, the media brands should be thinking about how to enhance the value and quality of their offerings.

It’s not that you can’t make money from being a high-volume, low cost site – it’s that there isn’t room for an infinite number of them. And the ones that already exist are very good.

Incisive Media plans on blocking ad-blockers in the New Year

The publisher, which has a mix of subscription-based and ad-funded magazines, is seeing 40 percent of its traffic affected by visitors with ad blockers enabled, across the titles with more technology-savvy audiences, with other titles such as subscription-based financial brand Risk, seeing 10-15 percent of traffic affected.

The ad-blocking arms race is officially underway.

There are good and bad varieties of these “news from our partners” ad boxes. The bad ones are very, very bad indeed. If a site is using the bad ones, they don’t respect you, the reader, at all. And that’s useful information.

A day at work watching YouTube videos:

A guy in a hamster suit falling over at a children’s birthday party also gets the nod. It reminds him of a video his company approved a few weeks ago—Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck performing the Nae Nae. He rejects “Close Call Canoeists.” I kind of like it (especially at 1:45), but he doesn’t.

It may sound like Granzow is wasting time at work, but he’s sifting for gold. And the airy, warehouse-like building of glass and exposed beams where he works is full of people just like him. He’s a researcher at Jukin Media, a small company in Los Angeles that identifies extremely shareable videos, strikes deals with the people who own them, and then licenses the clips.

A fascinating glimpse into the world of licensing and monetising viral videos. Juke Media essentially turns the world into a viral video production sandbox, and sifts the best out for rapid monetisation.