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The Business of Content
Simon Owens, tech and media journalist
The podcast about how publishers create, distribute, and monetize digital content.
2 days ago
He ran the newsletter strategy for BuzzFeed and The New Yorker
Dan Oshinsky didn’t apply for an open position to run BuzzFeed’s newsletter operations. He just happened to reach out to editor Ben Smith back when BuzzFeed was hiring a bunch of people with weird internet obsessions, and the company hired him without a clearly defined role. This dynamic granted Dan a lot of leeway in terms of how he approached BuzzFeed’s newsletters, and he went on to launch several products, including multiple online courses and the newsletter This Week In Cats. A few years later he got hired to run newsletters at The New Yorker, which was focused on building out its paid digital subscriptions. Recently, he left that job to run his own newsletter consultancy. I recently interviewed Dan about how he built out BuzzFeed’s newsletter strategy, the role of newsletters in driving paid subscriptions, and why he left such a prestigious job to strike off on his own.
Jun 28, 2020
How to launch a hit audiobook
The audiobook market is massive, with sales projected to hit $3.5 billion this year. What used to be a niche, expensive product is now one of the fastest growing mediums. In fact, The New York Times recently reported that audiobooks are one of the only book formats still growing in sales during the current pandemic-induced recession. But what does it take to launch a hit audiobook? How does the choice in narrator influence sales? And are book publishers worried about the market dominance of Amazon-owned Audible? These are all questions I put to Scott Dickey, the CEO of a company called Podium Audio. Podium is an audiobook studio that specializes in signing deals with self-published authors. It was the studio that produced the audiobook version of The Martian, the book that was made into a hit film starring Matt Damon.
Jun 22, 2020
Can Digg return to its former glory?
In the mid-2000s, Digg was one of the most powerful websites on the internet. Powered by its army of users, the platform would send gargantuan amounts of server-crushing traffic to any content featured on its front page. Millions of people visited it each day and it turned its founder Kevin Rose into an internet celebrity. But you probably know what came next. A misguided redesign triggered a user revolt, and its audience abandoned it for Reddit and other platforms. Before long, it seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of Myspace and Friendster. Its story didn’t end there. In 2012, the site sold to the startup studio Betaworks, which immediately went about trying to revive the Digg brand. In 2018, it was purchased by a company called BuySellAds. I recently interviewed Todd Garland, Digg’s new owner and CEO. We discussed its current editorial operations, its monetization strategy, and his plans to restore Digg to its former glory.
Jun 10, 2020
His video game song adaptations generated millions of views
I first discovered Gil Assayas, the musician otherwise known as GLASYS, when one of his YouTube videos made it to the front page Reddit. His amazing keyboard set up and sophisticated musical adaptations of well-known video game soundtracks caught the attention of several gamer subcultures, who then shared his videos widely across social media. I recently sat down with Gil and asked him about how he grew his fanbase and in what ways his viral videos have translated into career success.
Jun 3, 2020
Inside The LA Times's podcast strategy
The New York Times gets a lot of credit within the media industry for the blockbuster success of its podcast The Daily, but The Los Angeles Times was also an early pioneer within the medium. Its narrative true crime podcast Dirty John generated over 30 million downloads and was adapted into a TV show for Bravo. The newspaper has since gone on to launch ambitious shows chronicling the criminal trial of Bill Cosby and the famous murders committed by Betty Broderick. I recently interviewed Clint Schaff, VP of strategy and development, about the paper’s podcast productions. He walked me through how shows get made, their monetization strategy, and his views on selling IP to TV studios and Spotify.
May 27, 2020
How a pencil artist generated millions of views on YouTube
Jono Dry is the type of artist whose work is sold in European galleries by art dealers. He only finishes a few pieces a year, and most of his purchased pieces likely reside in the private collections of rich people, closed off from the public. But that hasn’t stopped millions of people from viewing his work. That’s because Jono films himself drawing each piece and uploads gorgeous time-lapse videos to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. On YouTube alone these videos have generated over 8 million views, and his success on social media has transformed him into a world-famous artist. I recently interviewed Jono about how he built his following and in what ways he’s been able to leverage that following to advance his career.
May 21, 2020
A local media company built on email newsletters
We’ve seen several media companies launch over the past few years that specialize in sending out newsletters that summarize each day’s news. Newsletters like theSkimm, The Hustle, and Morning Brew speak to their readers in a conversational style and have been embraced by millions of loyal subscribers. The folks behind 6AM City took that model and applied it to local news. Operating out of cities like Greenville, SC and Chattanooga, TN, each newsletter mines local newspapers, businesses, and social media accounts to produce a daily snapshot of the goings on in that urban center. To date, it’s grown to over 230,000 subscribers and monetizes primarily through custom, native ads. I recently interviewed co-founder Ryan Johnston about how each newsletter operates and whether he thinks his company is producing quality local news.
May 13, 2020
Monetizing a political newsletter during an election year
Ben Cohen isn’t the world’s biggest fan of Facebook. The founder of a political news website called The Daily Banter, Ben worked hard to build up his reach on Facebook, and for a few years he made a decent living selling advertising against his content. But after the 2016 election, Facebook pivoted away from news, and virtually overnight The Daily Banter lost 90% of its traffic. Not only could he no longer pay his own salary, but he was also struggling to keep his stable of writers on board. Out of desperation, he moved the Banter over to Substack and doubled down on paid subscriptions. That was in early 2019. I recently checked in with Ben to see how his efforts are going and how a presidential election year affects subscription growth for a political newsletter.
May 6, 2020
She built three successful media ventures from the ground up
Alexis Grant didn’t start her career with the goal of building several media businesses. She simply wanted work as a reporter. After college, she got a job at the Houston Chronicle and then later accepted a role editing the careers section at US News & World Report. But something about the business of media intrigued her, and while at US News & World Report she launched a side hustle running social media and blogs for corporate clients. Eventually, she drummed up enough business to quit her day job and focus on content marketing full time. In fact, she launched an entire marketing agency that specialized in producing branded content. One of her clients was a personal finance website called The Penny Hoarder, and she was so successful at growing its audience that the company eventually acquired her agency and installed her as its editor in chief. By the time she left The Penny Hoarder a few years later, it was generating tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue. I recently interviewed Alexis about how she helped scale these companies and what she plans to do next.
Apr 22, 2020
How the site Amazing Ribs amassed 15,000 paying subscribers
Because I write and podcast so much about the business of media, I regularly get emails from founders of niche media companies who want to tell me about their successful ventures. A few months ago, I received an email from a guy who identified himself only as Meathead, and after reading only a few paragraphs I knew I wanted to have him as a guest for my podcast. Meathead, who’s been writing about food on the internet since the days of dial-up AOL, started the website AmazinRibs.com almost as a lark. Flash forward 15 years, and it’s the preeminent authority on all things barbecue. It generates a healthy mix of revenue from advertising, affiliate sales, books, and paid subscriptions, and it grew its business without help from any venture backing. I recently interviewed Meathead about writing for AOL when it was the biggest game in town, running the third most popular wine magazine, and stumbling into a website venture that made him one of the most famous people within the barbecue scene.
1 hr 6 min
Apr 16, 2020
Why every comedian hosts a podcast
If you wanted to become a professional standup comedian in the 1990s, the path was pretty straightforward. You started by going to amateur open mic nights, where you would hone your act. Eventually, you’d develop five to 10 minutes of solid material and maybe get a slot opening for a bigger comedian. From there you’d work yourself up to bigger and bigger gigs, and if you were really talented and lucky, you’d land a slot on a late-night talk show, or, even better, get signed to an hour-long special for HBO. These days, the path for the aspiring comedian is completely different. Sure, there’s still the open mic nights and the club gigs. But there’s also a bevvy of online platforms that you can leverage to sharpen your craft and build a following. You might collaborate with other comedians and write sketches for a YouTube channel. You can practice your one-liners on Twitter. And you’ll definitely want to launch a podcast. As a full-time standup comedian, Joel Byars has emplo…
Apr 12, 2020
A publishing platform built for independent writers
Let’s say you’re a writer who wants to publish your work to the web and eventually monetize it. These days you have plenty of options. You might open a Medium account and join the platform’s partner program. Or maybe you launch a Substack newsletter. If you’re really ambitious, you could throw together a Wordpress website and integrate it with a payment tool like Stripe. Or you could just launch an account on Ghost, a publishing platform created a few years ago by a guy named John O’Nolan. Before founding Ghost, John was the deputy head of design at Wordpress, and though he was always a fan of the open source CMS, he thought he could create something a little bit better. So John launched a Kickstarter campaign, and after raising tens of thousands of dollars, he developed Ghost. Today, it’s used by some of the world’s largest brands, and his hope now is that independent writers will use it to monetize their content. I spoke to John about the platform and why he thinks a…
Apr 2, 2020
This guy built a B2B media empire
When we talk about the media industry, we’re usually discussing publishers that are geared toward a broad audience -- outlets like The New York Times or CNN or NPR. Even more niche publications like The Verge or Bon Appetit are designed to attract tens of millions of readers each month. But there’s also an entire ecosystem of business-oriented publishers that operate in extremely narrow niches -- outlets aimed at sewage workers, electricians, and grocery store executives. Though their readerships are relatively small, they represent industries that collectively generate hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Because of this, B2B niche publishers, when run well, can be immensely profitable. Industry Dive is one such B2B publisher. Founded in 2012, the company now produces publications that cover over a dozen industries. I sat down with one of its co-founders Sean Griffey to talk about Industry Dive’s origin story and how it bootstrapped its way to north of $22 million in ann…
Mar 25, 2020
How BuzzFeed is monetizing its travel vertical
BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti has expressed a lot of frustration with the large platforms that dominate our online browsing. In 2018, for instance, he complained that Facebook captures a lot of value from publishers and argued that it should share more of its revenue with them. That same year, he floated a merger of several digital media companies so they’d have more bargaining power against the platforms. And then recently he wrote a memo in which he lamented that publishers didn’t receive enough credit for the consumer purchases they drive. “The two most important players in this chain are the publisher who inspired a consumer to take action and the companies that actually deliver the product But most of the profit is captured by digital middlemen who didn’t create much value.” In the memo, he promised that BuzzFeed was working hard to solve this attribution problem. To get an idea of how BuzzFeed plans to solve this problem, I recently spoke to Rich Reid, its senior vice pr…
Mar 12, 2020
How to convert your audience into paying subscribers
It’s been nearly a decade since The New York Times launched its metered paywall, and its success has spurred just about every digital publisher to test out some form of reader revenue strategy. Many have followed in the Times’s footsteps and debuted metered paywalls. Others have rolled out various membership options, offering everything from behind-the-scenes footage to exclusive commenting features to convince readers to open their wallets. But which tactics actually work? And how should publishers determine what to charge? To answer these questions, I spoke to Jacob Donnely. Donnely is the managing director of audience and growth at Coindesk, one of the leading cryptocurrency publishers, and runs his own paid newsletter about the publishing industry. We talked about how to design the perfect subscription offering and debated whether subscription fatigue is actually real.
Mar 2, 2020
Why Twitter is launching its own podcasts
In its most recent earnings report, Twitter revealed that it has over 139 million daily users, but the company’s first podcast it launched in 2019 was designed to only appeal to a tiny fraction of those users. The show is called Character Count and is hosted by Joe Wadlington, a creative lead in the department that helps educate small businesses on how to leverage Twitter in their marketing. And that’s the focus of Character Count, highlighting some of the most effective ways in which businesses utilize Twitter. Recent guests have worked for Dungeons and Dragons, Grindr, and Dropbox. I recently interviewed Wadlington about his podcast strategy and the role the show plays in helping improve Twitter’s bottom line.
Feb 19, 2020
How I plan to monetize this podcast
Where you can subscribe to my newsletter: https://simonowens.substack.com/p/discount So this is the 68th episode of my podcast, and if you’ve been listening to it for any amount of time, you’d know that it never has ads. And while I don’t have anything against podcasts that have advertising, I don’t envision a future for this podcast where I’m reading promos for Squarespace of Mailchimp. But at the same time, I’d like for this podcast to contribute to my income, mostly so I can justify spending more time on it. During a good month, I might put out a new episode each week, but I’ve had busy months where I was lucky if I could produce more than a single episode. If I can start making money from this podcast, then it’ll be easier for me to justify spending more time on it, and then everyone gets to benefit. And I didn’t want to do just a quick promo and then be done with it. Given that most of my listeners actually care about business models for content, I wanted to…
Feb 12, 2020
How Axios tries to create truly differentiated content
There are few people as knowledgeable about web publishing as Scott Rosenberg. In 1995, he and a group of other San Francisco Examiner journalists launched Salon.com, one of the first online magazines. An early blogger, he wrote the definitive history of the blogosphere and published it as a book in 2009. Today, Rosenberg is the tech editor for Axios, a website launched in 2017 by Politico founders Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei. Since its debut, Axios has tried to upend the paradigm for how news can be delivered. Instead of adhering to the structure of the traditional news article, Axios reporters strive for succinctness by delivering information in a bulleted, just-the-facts-ma’am form. As co-founder Jim VandeHei explained in a 2017 interview, “Ninety percent of stories either shouldn’t have been written or should have been 10 percent the length. Most people do not want to spend five minutes on 1500 words of mediocrity on something that has one interesting fact, figure or quote.…
Feb 4, 2020
How Hollywood is transforming magazine journalism
In 2020, Netflix is projected to spend $17 billion on content. Disney will spend $24 billion and AT&T will shell out over $14 billion. With all that money on the line, there’s an enormous amount of demand for new intellectual property that can be adapted into movies and TV shows, and a lot of that IP is being drawn directly from magazines. The Oscar-winning film Argo, for instance, is based on a 2007 Wired article, and the critically-acclaimed Netflix miniseries Unbelievable is based on a longform Propublica article published in 2015. This rising demand means that Hollywood is throwing larger and larger sums of money at journalists just to option their articles. All that money has had a distorting effect on the entire magazine industry, with writers increasingly pitching more narrative articles in the hopes of luring a Hollywood agent. At least that’s according to journalist James Pogue, who recently wrote a piece for the Baffler about what he sees as the negative impact of the…
Jan 27, 2020
Going deep on the YouTube algorithm
Of all the algorithms that influence our daily internet browsing habits, few are more closely scrutinized than the one that governs YouTube. Through the homepage, the recommendations that appear on the side of videos, and the trending tab, YouTube’s algorithm has the ability to shower a video with millions of views and transform its unknown users into overnight stars. It’s because of this very influence that so many people get angry about it. Whether it’s YouTube stars who are worried about their ability to reach their fans or liberal critics who say YouTube promotes right-wing extremism, there are plenty of politicians, journalists, and activists who are up in arms and ready to accuse YouTube executives of all sorts of nefarious evil. But how many of these accusations are merely conspiracy theories born out of paranoia? To answer that question, I interviewed Chris Stokel-Walker, a journalist who covers YouTube for an online magazine called Fast Forward. Stokel-Walker and I wen…
Jan 21, 2020
The rise of editorial newsletters
I think it’s safe to say at this point that digital publishers recognize the importance of email newsletters. In 2016, Facebook pulled the rug out from underneath a media industry that had, until then, relied on it for hockey stick growth, and over the next several years publishers generally warmed to the idea that the decentralized distribution offered by email newsletters would prove more reliable than the fickle whims of social media giants. Today, nearly every media company has a robust email marketing strategy, and some news startups interact with their readerships almost entirely within the inbox. We’ve also seen the launch of platforms that make it easier for individual writers to distribute their own newsletters and monetize them through paid subscriptions. So are newsletters reaching a saturation point? Are they generating real ad revenue? And can newsletters actually replace Facebook as a referral source? These are just some of the questions I put toward Ernie Smith, t…
Jan 13, 2020
The State of Wikipedia in 2020
Back in 2010, the world was still skeptical of Wikipedia. High school teachers and college professors warned students to never, ever use it for research. If you ever tried to cite it in an argument, your opponent would mock it as unreliable. Late night hosts like Stephen Colbert would enlist their audiences to flood a specific Wikipedia page and vandalize it. Celebrities and major companies would treat it as a vanity project, editing their own pages while making absolutely no effort to disclose their conflict of interest. Flash forward to 2020, and Wikipedia certainly has more respect. The Wikimedia Foundation, which acts as its official steward, has tens of millions of dollars in the bank. While college professors don’t view it as a primary source for research, they’ll sometimes endorse it as a starting point for said research. And nearly everyone recognizes it as one of the most influential websites on the internet. But though tens of millions of people use Wikipedia every day,…
Jan 5, 2020
Will listeners ever pay for podcasts? Some already are
Back in June, the Interactive Advertising Bureau released a report estimating that the podcast industry generated $479 million in 2018 and is projected to make $1 billion by 2021. Not only is this a tiny pittance compared to the money generated by other mediums like TV and search, but podcasting has also been limited by its over-reliance on advertising. Unlike, say, Netflix or The New York Times, most podcast companies have struggled to diversify their revenue beyond advertising, and most major podcast apps don’t provide a way for podcasters to directly collect money from their listeners. But several companies, like Spotify and Luminary, are attempting to bundle exclusive podcasts and sell access to them behind a subscription paywall. Other platforms assist individual podcasters in converting their listeners into paying subscribers. The company Glow fits into the latter category. Founded a little over a year ago, Glow developed technology that allows a podcast’s paying subscribe…
Dec 4, 2019
Minute Media's plan to dominate sports coverage
In November, a company called Minute Media announced it was acquiring The Players’ Tribune, the website founded by Derek Jeter that regularly collaborates with pro sports athletes on first-person storytelling. Though the name Minute Media might not be familiar to most people, chances are you’ve encountered one of the sites it owns, especially if you follow sports. Over the past few years, it’s slowly amassed an amalgam of sports properties that cover everything from global soccer to esports. It also owns Mental Floss, the quirky trivia magazine that was founded in 2001. I recently sat down with President and CRO Rich Routman to discuss why he thinks Minute Media is different from many of the other venture funded digital media sites out there. We talked about the company’s video strategy, how it approaches advertising, and why it expanded into non-sports content when it acquired Mental Floss.
Nov 20, 2019
Do podcasts sell books? Yes
More than a decade ago, before most people even knew what a podcast was, Macmillan, one of the largest book publishers in the world, launched a podcast network. Called Quick and Dirty Tips, the network consisted of short, scripted podcasts that delivered evergreen, practical advice on a range of topics from grammar to money management. In the years since, Macmillan has continued to invest in its podcast division, expanding into narrative shows and even teleplays. For this episode, I interviewed Kathy Doyle, vice president of podcasting, about where the company has seen the most success and how podcasting allowed it to diversify its revenue.
Nov 14, 2019
The next frontier in self-publishing: audiobooks
Jane Friedman has spent almost the entirety of her professional career working in book publishing. In the mid-aughts, she began writing about the industry, both for professional outlets and her own blog. A few years ago, she launched a paid newsletter that now generates the majority of her income. I recently interviewed Friedman about her work. We discussed how she grew her newsletter into a sustainable business, and then we talked about the current state of book publishing. One aspect of this world that’s long fascinated me is self-publishing, so I asked Friedman to fill me in on how this market is maturing and where self-published writers are seeing success.
Nov 6, 2019
What it takes to build a bootstrapped podcast network
If you listen to the podcast called Startup, then you’ve heard host Alex Blumberg go into exquisite detail about the trials and tribulations of launching a VC-funded podcast network. In earlier seasons, we got a firsthand look about what it was like to pitch venture capitalists, hire talent, and grow the business. In the final season of Startup, Blumberg walked us through Spotify’s $230 million acquisition of Gimlet. But what about bootstrapped podcast networks that don’t have access to millions of dollars of venture capital money? How do they get off the ground and scale? To answer these questions, I spoke to Jeff Umbro, the founder of the Podglomerate. We talked about his early mistakes in trying to partner with shows for his network and why it can be incredibly difficult to monetize a show with a small audience.
Oct 27, 2019
Why an online polling platform hired a seasoned journalist to run it
Advance Publications is one of the largest media companies in the world. It owns dozens of newspapers, the Conde Nast magazine empire, and even Reddit. A few years ago, it launched the Alpha Group, a tech incubator that would launch small startups and try to grow them into thriving, standalone businesses. One of those startups was called The Tylt, a platform that allows its users to participate in online opinion polls on a wide range of issues. The Tylt was successful enough that Alpha Group spun it off as its own company. Recently, The Tylt hired Selena Roberts, a seasoned journalist who’s written for The New York Times and Sports Illustrated, to serve as its executive editor. I recently sat down with Roberts to learn about the site’s editorial ambitions and whether online, unscientific polls have any journalistic value.
Oct 8, 2019
This startup wants to solve podcasting's monetization problem
Agnes Kozera knows a thing or two about helping content creators monetize their content. In 2013, she and a co-founder launched Famebit, a platform that helped YouTubers match with brands that were willing to sponsor their videos. The company was so successful that it was eventually acquired by YouTube in 2016. This year, Kozera and that same co-founder are launching Podcorn, a platform designed to help podcasters monetize their shows. Like Famebit, it will serve as an online marketplace where brands can post RFPs for projects and be matched with participating podcasters. I interviewed Kozera about why such a platform is needed, how the current podcast advertising landscape is flawed, and why podcasters with small-to-mid-sized audiences currently have such a difficult time finding sponsors.
Sep 4, 2019
How Clive Thompson became one of the most influential tech journalists
Clive Thompson has the kind of career that most writers would envy. He’s written two books for major publishing houses. He has a monthly column at Wired magazine. And he writes regular features for The New York Times Magazine and other glossy magazines. But that kind of success didn’t come to him overnight. In fact, Thompson spent years toiling away writing for small publications making very little money. I recently interviewed him to discuss how he made his big break, what it takes to write the perfect magazine pitch, and why book publishers are more likely to award contracts to established journalists.
1 hr 5 min
Jul 2, 2019
He founded one of the earliest tech blogs. Now he edits a newsletter
These days, nearly every major news organization employs multiple reporters who aggressively cover the tech industry, but a decade ago tech coverage was dominated by blogs like TechCrunch, Mashable, and VentureBeat. Back then, these blogs churned out scoop after scoop, competed for traffic, and sometimes even went to war with each other. Among the earliest of these blogs was ReadWriteWeb. Launched in 2003, it was founded by Richard MacManus, a New Zealander who was inspired to launch a site after reading the work of blog pioneer Dave Winer. Within a few years, MacManus began selling ads and was able to hire a global staff of reporters. I recently interviewed MacManus about the early days of tech blogging and why, for his latest writing project, he decided to eschew blogging entirely and launch a newsletter instead.
Jun 17, 2019
Why Techmeme launched a daily podcast
In 2005, a computer software engineer named Gabe Rivera launched the site that would eventually become Techmeme. Governed by algorithms, Techmeme aggregated the day’s tech news, and it eventually became so influential that bloggers and journalists would vie to get their articles featured on the site. Flash forward to 2018, and Techmeme announced that it would expand its news curation into a daily podcast. I recently sat down with host Brian McCullough to talk about how he came up with the idea for a daily tech podcast and what he’s doing to expand it into an entire podcast network.
Jun 12, 2019
This Canadian media company has launched 11 local news sites
The last decade hasn’t been kind to local newspapers. According to one study, 1,800 newspapers have shut down since 2004, and many of those that survived are facing tighter margins, layoffs, and corporate consolidation. There are myriad reasons for this retrenchment. Part of the blame is on hedge funds that buy up local media companies and then squeeze them dry. Others point to major platforms like Facebook, Google, and Craigslist, all of which have siphoned away a large portion of the local advertising newspapers traditionally relied on. Despite these headwinds, we’ve seen a few digital-first upstarts thrive in the local news market. One such company is Village Media, which started out as a single news site in an Ontario city and has since grown to 11 sites spread out across Canada. I recently interviewed Jeff Elgie, Village Media’s CEO, about the company’s history and how it’s succeeded where so many legacy newspapers have struggled or failed.
Jun 5, 2019
Inside Vox Media's podcast strategy
The Interactive Advertising Bureau recently estimated that podcast industry revenue grew by 53 percent last year and is projected to reach $1 billion by 2021. With so much year-over-year growth, it shouldn’t be any surprise that many media companies are aggressively expanding their podcast operations. This is certainly true for Vox Media, which over the past few years has launched over 150 podcasts on topics that include technology, politics, and sports. The audio medium is now an eight-figure business for Vox. I recently sat down with Marty Moe, the head of Vox Media Studios, to talk about how the company is monetizing these podcasts, what he thinks about Spotify’s entry into podcasting, and why he thinks he can grow Vox’s podcast revenue from eight to nine figures.
May 29, 2019
Why LinkedIn hired the world's top business journalists
Back in 2011, LinkedIn announced that it was hiring Dan Roth, who was then the editor of Fortune.com, to serve as its editor in chief. Given LinkedIn’s then role as mostly a repository for online resumes, the move had many scratching their heads. Over the next few years, though, Roth’s team would roll out a number of editorial products. It started by curating outside news sources, sending LinkedIn users to articles published by business publications like The Wall Street Journal and Business Insider. Then it rolled out a blogging platform that was only available to influential users like Richard Branson and Bill Gates. Eventually, it then opened up its blogging platform to all users. During all this time, LinkedIn was steadily hiring journalists from some of the world’s top business publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Fortune. Today, it has an editorial staff of 60, and these editors are responsible for everything from curating user content to producing…
May 20, 2019
Facebook decimated this publisher's business. So it became a paid newsletter.
For a few years, Ben Cohen was living the dream. His political opinion site, The Daily Banter, was growing in leaps and bounds, generating enough traffic and ad revenue to support several full-time writers. At its height, the site was getting upwards of 6 million unique visitors a month, fueled in large part by readers sharing his content on Facebook. But you probably know what happened next. In January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was pivoting away from news, and that publishers would see a decline in exposure in the Newsfeed. Virtually overnight, Cohen saw his Facebook traffic drop by 90%. He tried to hold out as long as he could, but eventually Cohen reached a point where he either had to radically change his business model or shut down the website completely. In the end, he did both. He shut down his website and launched a newsletter. Sign up, and you received two free newsletters a week. Pay a little extra, and you got two additional newsletters. I recently int…
May 14, 2019
This indie newsletter generated over 10,000 paying subscribers
With social platforms like Facebook throttling distribution for news and the online ad market collapsing, more and more writers are turning to paid newsletters as a way to make a living. In a November 2018 episode of this podcast, I interviewed Hamish McKenzie, the co-founder of Substack, a platform that made it easy for writers to launch newsletters and charge subscribers to receive exclusive issues of those newsletters. At the time, McKenzie said that Substack writers had converted a combined 25,000 readers into paying subscribers. Flash forward to today, and that number is up to 40,000. In fact, BuzzFeed recently reported that the 12 top writers on Substack make over $160,000 a year each. For this week’s episode, I interviewed one of those writers: Robert Cottrell. Ten years ago, Cottrell founded a website called The Browser. He would comb through thousands of articles a day and pick the five he found most interesting, adding a dash of commentary to go along with each pick. As t…
May 5, 2019
Why Business Insider launched a hard paywall
It seems like not a week goes by without another online publisher announcing a subscription paywall, but that didn’t make me any less surprised when Business Insider debuted its own paid subscription product. Founded in 2007 by Henry Blodget, Business Insider took boring, staid business reporting and curated it with a bloggy, conversational voice. Funded by digital advertising, BI tested the theory that a digital media company could scale its way to profitability with free content. But in 2015, Business Insider was acquired by Axel Springer, a German media company that fiercely protects its intellectual property and is a firm believer that consumers should pay for content. In 2017, Business Insider launched Prime, a subscription product which places some of this site’s daily reporting behind a paywall. Though it still publishes plenty of free content, you’ll have to cough up around $10 a month if you want to access its most deeply-reported articles. To get insights into Busine…
Apr 28, 2019
This media company has launched 81 local news sites and is expanding
If you’ve been working in local news over the past decade, chances are that your job hasn’t felt very secure. One study estimated that as many 1,800 local newspapers have shut down since 2004, and those that have survived have faced steep budget cuts and layoffs. Hedge funds have been purchasing newspapers, saddling them with debt, and bleeding them dry, while the Facebook/Google duopoly have diverted more and more local advertising toward their own services. Last year, Facebook launched a feature that would allow users to be shown more local news in their Newsfeed, but it recently admitted that one in three U.S. users lived in areas that didn’t produce enough local news for Facebook to curate. But not all local news operations have struggled. A New Jersey based media company called TAPinto has launched 81 local news sites and is still growing. While most of those sites are located in New Jersey, the company has recently branched out into Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Florid…
Apr 7, 2019
The 2019 state of Instagram influencer fraud
Back in January, I wrote an article for New York magazine asking whether it’s time for the U.S. government to enact stricter regulation on social media influencers. I pointed to investigations from news outlets like The New York Times that uncovered companies that have sold hundreds of millions of fake followers to willing buyers, most of whom wanted to inflate their online influence. In many cases, these fake followings were then used to dupe unsuspecting brands into purchasing sponsored Instagram posts. The rising prevalence of fraud within the Instagram influencer community has led to greater scrutiny and efforts to detect such fraud. To do so, brands now often use software like HypeAuditor, which scans an influencer’s account in search of automated and fraudulent activity. HypeAuditor recently leveraged its data to generate a report on the current state of Instagram influencer fraud. I interviewed Yaro Pat, HypeAuditor’s product owner, about the results of the report and ho…
Mar 24, 2019
This B2B media company covers a $7.5 trillion industry and is profitable
John Yedinak didn’t have a traditional journalism background when he started his media company. He was working in the mortgage industry when he read an interview with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington. The interview inspired him to launch his own blog on the reverse mortgage industry, and as the blog’s audience grew, he began to realize that there was a massive market out there for niche, B2B publications. In 2012, he officially launched the Aging Media Network, a constellation of sites that cover the businesses that service the aging population, from hospice care to senior housing. I recently sat down with Yedinak to talk about how his team built the audience for the publications, how they monetize the sites, and why they focus on advertising instead of paid subscriptions.
Mar 16, 2019
Inside The New York Times's video strategy
Peruse through the vast video archive at The New York Times, and you’ll come across plenty of your standard short documentary films, the kinds with voiceover, b-roll footage, and original interviews. But you’ll also encounter some experimental fare. There’s the fake infomercial advertising a phone hotline for racists. There’s an entire animated series geared toward parents. And then there’s the ongoing series, called Diary of a Song, which uses a mixture of low quality Skype footage and animation to walk the viewer through how a hit song was made. Overseeing much of this production is Nancy Gauss, executive director of video at The New York Times. I recently interviewed Gauss about her team’s approach to video creation and how it fits in with The Times’s larger goals in driving brand loyalty and paid subscriptions.
Mar 2, 2019
Why Advance Publications launched a tech incubator to build new products
Advance Publications is one of the world’s largest media companies. It owns Conde Nast, home to magazines like The New Yorker and Vogue, as well as dozens of newspapers across the U.S. It even has a majority stake in Reddit. A few years ago, it launched Alpha Group, an incubator meant to launch brand new tech products and grow them into fully functional companies. Rather than acting like a traditional media company, Alpha Group takes a much more expansive view as to what constitutes a 21-century media company, and its products span a wide range of functions, from a social polling app to a Facebook chat bot. I sat down with David Cohn, a senior director at Alpha Group, to talk about how the company comes up with new product ideas and what it’s like to try to launch multiple tech companies from scratch.
Feb 23, 2019
Inside MoveOn's video strategy
Founded in 1998, MoveOn.org started as a progressive email group and pioneered political online advocacy. Over the past two decades it’s leveraged its massive email list to raise millions of dollars for left-wing candidates and push for a number of progressive legislative issues. As the internet evolved, so did MoveOn, and today its reach spans millions of followers across the web’s biggest social platforms. In recent years, it’s placed significant emphasis on creating online video, and its videos now generate millions of views each week across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I recently sat down with Sara Kenigsberg, MoveOn’s senior video producer. I asked about why MoveOn’s videos aren’t designed well for YouTube, how she chooses her video topics, and which social platform is best for broadcasting live video.
Feb 6, 2019
How Pop-Up Magazine grew into a nationwide events series
It started in 2009 in San Francisco. A couple of journalists got the idea of putting together a magazine, but instead of setting it to print, they would perform it live. Pop-Up Magazine, as the event was called, was a huge hit, and the founders had to seek out larger and larger theaters in order to meet demand. In 2015, they decided to take the show on the road, touring Pop-Up Magazine across several major cities. I recently sat down with Chas Edwards, co-founder and president of Pop-Up Magazine. I asked him about the logistics of creating a live magazine from scratch, how the company makes money, and what the future holds for it now that it’s been purchased by the Emerson Collective.
Jan 20, 2019
Inside The Atlantic's in-house creative agency
The Atlantic may be a 160-year-old institution, but it isn’t shy about experimenting with new things. It was one of the first traditional publications to go all-in on digital media in the late-aughts and managed to achieve profitability from the move pretty quickly. It experimented with brand new verticals like The Atlantic Wire and Quartz. Recently, it was acquired by Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective, which has been investing in forward-thinking media sites. And since 2012, it’s been running an in-house creative agency called Atlantic 57. The idea is simple: let’s take the editorial insights we’ve gleaned from running a magazine for 160 years and use that to launch online publications for major brands and non-profits. I recently interview Margaret Myers, a longtime journalist who works on one of these editorial projects for insurance company Allstate. I asked her about her past life as a traditional journalist and how she leverages that expertise in developing cont…
Jan 13, 2019
This blogger generated $80,000 last year selling online courses
When Ben Collins launched his blog about Google Sheets, which is basically Google’s version of Excel, he didn’t intend for it to become a full-time business. He was just documenting his learning process and hoped the blog would serve as an online portfolio for when he went out to seek full-time employment. But he was surprised to learn that there was an actual audience for his blog posts, and within six months he had thousands of visitors flooding his website searching for how to perform specific actions within Google Sheets. Eventually, this led to his first paying client, and before he knew it Collins had more incoming business than he knew what to do with. But he wanted to create something a little more scalable, so he started developing an online course for those looking to master the Google Sheets platform. Within months of launching this course, he was generating thousands of dollars a month in passive income. I interviewed Collins about how he designed his course, how he…
Jan 6, 2019
Should publishers be allowed to collectively bargain with Facebook and Google?
In 2017, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed titled “How Antitrust Undermines Press Freedom.” It was written by David Chavern, the head of the News Media Alliance, a trade group that represents over 2,000 publishers. In it, he argues that Facebook and Google have effectively cornered the digital ad market, eating up all its growth, and that this has come at the expense of the very content creators that these two companies rely on, content creators Facebook and Google refuse to fairly compensate. “The only way publishers can address this inexorable threat is by banding together,” wrote Chavern. “If they open a unified front to negotiate with Google and Facebook—pushing for stronger intellectual-property protections, better support for subscription models and a fair share of revenue and data—they could build a more sustainable future for the news business.” Earlier this decade, several book publishers banned together to negotiate ebook prices with Apple in a dir…
Dec 13, 2018
Can this betting app replace the Nate Silvers of the world?
Name just about any media beat, and you’ll find plenty of people trying to predict the future. Political pundits argue over who will win the next election. Finance journalists report on economic forecasts and claims from analysts over where a stock will be six months from now. Even entertainment bloggers will try to hash out which film, song, or TV show will win at the next awards ceremony. But in most cases, those predictions will be wrong. In fact, many studies have shown that a crowd of everyday people will, on average, make better predictions than the experts who work in that particular field. That’s why a lot of attention has been paid lately to betting markets, which can provide real-time odds for any particular outcome ranging from a presidential election to winner of the best picture Oscar. There’s just one problem: most states outlaw online gambling, meaning many of the most well-known betting markets don’t operate within the U.S. But a relatively new prediction mark…
Dec 5, 2018
A new study on why we pay for online news
Subscriptions are all the rage in the media industry right now. Facing diminishing ad rates, publishers have turned to the paid subscription model as a way to draw revenue directly from the users that consume their content. Publishers ranging from The New York Times to The Washington Post to The Financial Times have announced they’ve reached north of a million subscribers. It seems like every day a different publisher is announcing the launch of a metered paywall or membership service. But getting a news consumer to actually open up their wallet and subscribe is harder than it looks, and the space is only getting more competitive as publishers continue to launch subscription offerings. So what are the actions a publisher can take to make it more likely for a casual reader to convert into a paying subscriber? A new study from digital publishing platform Twipe sought to answer this question. Researcher Mary-Katharine Phillips surveyed 4,000 news consumers across Europe and the U.S. t…
Nov 27, 2018
He sold his blog network to AOL for $25 million. And that was just the beginning
You can’t write a history of Web 2.0 without including the contributions of Brian Alvey. After getting his start doing design work for traditional publications like TV Guide and BusinessWeek, Alvey teamed up with his childhood friend Jason Calacanis to launch a series of online publications. Eventually, the two created Weblogs, Inc, a blog network that went on to be sold to AOL. The content management system Alvey built would eventually power AOL’s portal and much of its websites. But Alvey didn’t stop there; he’d go on to build publishing platforms that would power everything from TMZ to Rupert Murdoch’s ambitious iPad app The Daily. I interviewed Alvey about what it was like to run a blog network in Web 2.0’s early days, how he ended up in a 45 minute meeting with Jeff Bezos, and why the iPad failed to save the media industry.
1 hr 2 min
Nov 20, 2018
This editorial newsletter platform has 25,000 paying subscribers
In 2014, Ben Thompson, a blogger who writes about the business of technology, announced he was quitting his job so he could write full time. His business model? He would send out four newsletters a week. One of those newsletters would be free, and if you wanted access to the other three, then you had to pay $10 per month. Within a year, Thompson had 2,000 subscribers, which, if you do the math, means he was generating $200,000 a year. At that point, he stopped publicly disclosing his subscriber numbers, but some predict that he’s increased his subscriber numbers by several thousand. Thompson was an early pioneer in the realm of paid newsletters, and since then there have been several other writers who struck out on their own with similar models. There’s Nick Quah’s podcast newsletter Hot Pod. There’s political writer Judd Legum’s Popular Information. Many of these newsletter writers have had to string together multiple services, from Mailchimp to Stripe, in order to manage…
Nov 13, 2018
This nutritionist generated 35 million downloads of her podcast. Here's how she did it
Monica Reinagel had no background in broadcasting or radio when she launched a podcast called Nutrition Diva in 2008, but she was a trained nutritionist, had published several books, and was writing a regular column at a popular health website, and this was just the sort of background that Quick and Dirty Tips, a podcast network run by the book publisher Macmillan, was looking for when she reached out to it to ask if the company would consider taking her on. Flash forward a decade, and Reinagel now has over 500 episodes under her belt, and they’ve generated a collective 35 million downloads. I sat down with her recently to discuss how she benefited from joining a podcast network, where she gets the ideas for new topics, and why she has to be super picky when choosing which brands she’ll allow to sponsor her show.
Nov 5, 2018
Most people don't click on social media links. Here's why that's bad
Just about everyone’s experienced a scenario like this: you read a highly-nuanced article on a topic you find interesting. You then decide to share it on Facebook. Within minutes, a Facebook friend leaves a comment arguing with the premise of the article, and it’s immediately obvious that this person hasn’t actually read the piece in question. In fact, the vast majority of social media users will interact with content without actually clicking through and consuming it. One study from Columbia University found that 59 percent of links shared on social media aren’t even clicked on. Data collected from Hubspot found that “there is no correlation between retweets and clicks.” So what does this really mean for how we absorb information on social media? And how are we impacted by the commentary that social media users will often add when they’re sharing a link? York College political science professor Nick Anspach wanted to answer these questions, so he devised an experimen…
Oct 24, 2018
How The Hustle reached 1 million email subscribers
Sam Parr never set out to launch a media company. A few years ago, he was fresh from selling a company he had founded and was looking for something else to do. He decided to recruit about a dozen entrepreneurs as speakers and hosted an event he called Hustlecon. The event was a success, and Parr expanded it into a media website that published daily content. But while the site generated some viral hits, Parr eventually became convinced that the email inbox would produce a much more intimate experience and a better delivery system, so he relaunched The Hustle as a standalone newsletter. Since then, The Hustle has amassed a growing number of diehard followers who evangelize the newsletter to their friends, converse in a private Facebook group, and even meet up in person. I interviewed Parr about what strategies he used to grow the subscriber base, how his editorial team goes about picking daily topics, and what kind of companies like to advertise on a newsletter.
Oct 17, 2018
How Slate built a live events business around its most popular podcasts
While it seems like every publisher, from The New York Times to Vox, is making significant investments in podcasting, one could argue that Slate was the earliest to invest in the medium. It launched the Slate Political Gabfest -- a panel show with three regular hosts -- all the way back in 2005. Since then, Slate has debuted dozens of new podcasts, which collectively generate millions of downloads each month. And starting in 2009, shortly after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, it started hosting live events centered around these podcasts. Slate has since expanded its live events business, and it now hosts sold-out shows in cities all across the U.S. I recently sat down with Faith Smith, the executive producer for Slate Live. We discussed how her team selects which cities to tour in, how she negotiates with event venues, and what podcast fans are willing to pay in order to watch a live podcast recording.
Oct 10, 2018
This webcomic artist has 1 million fans on Facebook. Here's how he got them
Chris Grady didn’t know much about the webcomic world when he launched Lunarbaboon, a semi-autobiographical comic about family and parenthood. But shortly after launching the comic, he started sharing it to Reddit, and suddenly Lunarbaboon was being seen and shared by tens of thousands of people. Flash forward a few years, and Lunarbaboon has over a million followers on Facebook. Grady generates $1,500 a month on Patreon and has launched several successful Kickstarter projects related to his comic. His latest Kickstarter, this one for a board game he helped illustrate and create, has already generated $50,000 in backing. I interviewed Grady about what it takes to maintain a successful webcomic, how he grew his audience, and why popular webcomics often make much more money from merchandise than they do from ads.
Sep 27, 2018
Why Quartz launched a newsletter that dives into obscure trivia
Would you read a 1,300-word newsletter about garden sheds? What about a 1,400-word piece on lettuce? A little over a year ago, the business-focused publication Quartz made a bet that you would, launching a daily newsletter called Quartz Obsession. The aim of the product? Take the most mundane topics imaginable and -- through narration, numbers, and quotes -- prove to the reader that these topics are not mundane at all. Unlike many publication newsletters that simply round up links to articles on the publication’s site, Quartz Obsession is a standalone newsletter that can be completely consumed within the inbox. It’s seen open rates as high as 80 percent and thousands of readers have written in to suggest topics. Why did Quartz launch a product that steered clear of the editorial topics it usually covers on its website? And how does it pick each day’s topics? To answer these questions, I turned to Jessanne Collins, who edits the newsletter.
Sep 20, 2018
Inside the social media strategy for The Financial Times
Recently, an industry website called The Drum reported that The Financial Times, the London-based business publication, is projected to hit 1 million paying digital subscribers by next year. This is impressive, not just because only a handful of publications have hit this milestone, but also because The Financial Times has done so while maintaining a hard paywall. Unlike companies that use metered paywalls like The New York Times and Washington Post, The Financial Times hits users with a subscriber login page on the vast majority of its articles. This presents a challenge for a social media editor: how do you promote content when most of your followers won’t be able to see it? To get an overview of The Financial Times’ social media strategy, I interviewed Jake Grovum, its head of social. He told me about how the Times’ has leveraged Instagram stories, what metrics his team is judged by, and why the newspaper hasn’t invested resources into Snapchat.
Sep 12, 2018
He pioneered early online advertising. Now he’s doing the same for AR
Long before Facebook started generating billions of dollars on self-service native ads, Henry Copeland had invented a self-service native advertising platform for blogs. And he was building early content management systems for newspapers well before products like Wordpress would go on to power much of the internet. These days, Copeland is focused on augmented reality, and he think that today’s AR products are the equivalent of the blog advertising widgets he was developing in the early 2000s. In other words, we haven’t even hit the tipping point that will make AR ubiquitous, woven into the fabric of our daily lives. What will that world look like? And what technologies still need to be invented before we can reach that point? I asked Copeland about these topics, and given his previous track record of spotting trends that would go on to sprout multi-billion dollar industries, I think we should listen to what he has to say.
Aug 22, 2018
This Boston business publication charges subscribers $695 a year and is sustainable
If you follow the digital media sector, you’ve likely noticed that advertising as a business model is on the wane. With the Facebook and Google duopoly sucking up just about all the advertising money flowing online, publishers have been forced to find alternate revenue sources to fund their content. One such source: subscriptions. More and more publishers are rolling out subscription and membership programs, and many have been successful. One such success? Innovation Leader, a small business-focused publication that launched in 2013. It carries no advertising, has a hard paywall, and charges subscribers $695 a year. I recently sat down with one of its cofounders, Scott Kirsner, and asked him about why he settled on such a high price point, how the publication markets to new subscribers, and how it approaches content development.
Aug 12, 2018
It started as a one-man personal finance blog. Now it generates millions in revenue.
In 2010, a college dropout named Kyle Taylor launched a blogspot account. He was taking on odd side jobs in an attempt to crawl his way out of debt, and the blog was a way to write about lessons he learned on making and saving money. Traffic was scarce, at first, but over a period of years the blog slowly gained an audience. Eventually, brands started approaching Taylor about publishing sponsored posts, and revenue for the site, which was called The Penny Hoarder, quickly grew. Flash forward a few more years, and The Penny Hoarder now has a huge audience, dozens of full-time staffers, and millions in annual revenue. To get a better understanding of how the site grew this big, I interviewed John Schlander, The Penny Hoarder’s managing editor. I asked him about how his staff develops its story ideas, how the site makes money, and whether the rise of the gig economy plays a part in its success. Let’s jump right into it.
Jul 30, 2018
How unemployed college students launched a thriving tech news site
When Christopher Wink graduated college in 2008, he had no intention of launching a media company. He just wanted an entry level journalism job that would allow him to work his way up within the industry. But back then, when newspapers were hemorrhaging revenue and announcing mass layoffs, there weren’t a lot of journalism jobs to pass around. So, out of desperation, he and a couple other college friends launched a Wordpress blog called Technically Philly. It covered the local tech scene, an industry that at the time was largely ignored by regional news organizations. Eventually, the blog gained traction and profitability, and the growth allowed Wink and his friends to launch local tech blogs in Brooklyn, Baltimore, DC, and Delaware. I interviewed Wink about the early days of running an unknown tech blog, what it takes to launch a site in a new city, and why he’s never been all that interested in building out an advertising business.
Jul 22, 2018
How Facebook’s Newsfeed changes are affecting European publishers
Back in January, Facebook made an announcement that shocked the publishing world: It was tweaking its Newsfeed algorithm so there would be less emphasis on Facebook pages and more focus on what your friends were sharing. Reach for Facebook pages was expected to plummet, and publishers that had grown addicted to Facebook’s free referral traffic girded themselves for an all-out decimation of their businesses. But while there have been some clear victims of the algorithm change, the actual data for who’s been hurt by it is noisy. Some publishers have seen a dip in Facebook engagement, while others have remained steady or even improved. That’s the case for U.S. publishers, at least. But what about Europe? To find out, I interviewed Steve El-Sharawy, head of innovation at EzyInsights, a platform that tracks Facebook engagement for publishers. I asked El-Sharawy about how European publishers reacted to the announced algorithm changes and whether there are any clear winners and lose…
Jul 12, 2018
Why Fortune 100 companies are launching their own podcasts
It’s impossible to know which company launched the first branded podcast, but one of the earliest well known examples was GE’s The Message. Produced in collaboration with Panoply, The Message was a science fiction documentary that generated millions of downloads and a rabid fanbase. Ever since GE’s runaway success with the medium, other major brands have waded into the podcast waters, with large companies like Walmart and Goldman Sachs launching their own shows in recent years. But what makes a branded podcast good? How do you avoid making it sound like just another ad? And how does a successful podcast help a company’s bottom line? To answer these questions, I interviewed Rachael King, founder of the podcast consulting company Pod People. She recently helped produce podcasts for companies like Samsung and Medium, and we talked about the rise in demand for the services she offers and how one develops the skillset needed to become a podcast consultant.
Jun 18, 2018
How an obsession with right wing media spawned a booming newsletter
Will Sommer grew up in a conservative household and garnered an early interest in Rush Limbaugh and other right wing media figures. When he went to college, his politics changed, but his obsession with conservative media never went away. In late 2016, that obsession paid off. Sommer was one of the first reporters to write about Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory that a DC pizza parlor was the home of a child sex ring. After a man was arrested for firing a gun inside the restaurant, his reporting gained national relevance. Shortly afterward, he launched Right Richter, and he soon became one of the foremost experts on the obscure right wing media outlets that, in some cases, produce conspiracies that bubble all the way up to Donald Trump’s Twitter account.
Jun 12, 2018
How this web designer became the Nate Silver of healthcare reporting
Back in 2013, the Obama Administration rolled out a new version of Healthcare.gov, with disastrous results. It was the public unveiling of the Obamacare exchanges that would allow anyone to buy health insurance on the open market, and yet the website was almost impossible to navigate without encountering errors that would prevent you from signing up for insurance. At the time, Charles Gaba was running a freelance web designer business in Michigan and writing for the liberal blog Daily Kos during his free time. Frustrated by the botched rollout and the amount of misinformation floating around about how many people had actually enrolled in the exchanges, he made a public call to other Daily Kos bloggers to help him count the number of Obamacare enrollees. That project eventually evolved into ACAsignups.net, a standalone blog that eventually captured the attention of policymakers, journalists, and anyone interested in the state of U.S. healthcare. Traffic to his blog exploded, and he be…
May 28, 2018
This guy built a $1 million business on top of the Gmail API
Every year we get new articles questioning whether “email is dead.” With the proliferation of social media and messaging apps, it seems only natural to ask what will replace a decades-old electronic messaging system that really hasn’t changed much in all the years we’ve used it. But email has remained resilient, and it’s even experienced a renaissance of sorts lately. In the wake of Facebook’s algorithm changes that are designed to hurt content providers, more and more publishers are launching new email newsletter products. It’s impossible these days to fire up a podcast or watch a YouTube video without encountering an ad for Mailchimp. And of all the email providers, Gmail is king. The Google-operated service has over 1 billion users and is one of the few major email platforms that is actually continuing to innovate. In 2014, it opened up its API to developers, allowing them to build new products that Gmail users can install. It was around this time that Ajay Goel was…
May 20, 2018
How publishers monetize their newsletters with paid subscriptions
There’s no question that newsletters are on the rise. Legacy publishers are constantly launching new newsletter products. Quartz’s Obsession newsletter, for instance, picks seemingly random topics and goes deeps on them. Vox’s Voxcare newsletter, a favorite of mine, covers new developments in healthcare policy. But we’re also seeing a number of media startups that are producing newsletters without corresponding websites. The Hustle, a business-news oriented newsletter that has over 500,000 subscribers, keeps all its content contained within its newsletter and publishes none of it to its website. The same can be said for theSkimm, a female-focused newsletter launched by two former NBC producers, and Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter. So what’s the business model for these types of newsletters? Of course many of them rely on advertising, but we’re also seeing a number of new products enter the market that allow newsletter publishers to charge money to their subscribers, often i…
May 7, 2018
How artists illegally pay their way onto Spotify's playlists
With over 150 million users, Spotify has the ability to launch the careers of previously-unknown music artists. It does this by featuring these artists on its playlists, which are maintained by a mixture of users, Spotify staff, and algorithms. Playlists count for half of all listening on Spotify, and getting your song listed on a few of the most influential lists, some of which boast millions of subscribers, has the ability to thrust you onto the Billboard 100 charts. Several rap artists featured on Rap Caviar, one of the app’s most powerful lists, have become overnight sensations. But with individual users wielding that much power, it shouldn’t be surprising that some have succumbed to illicit backroom deals in which artists pay the playlist owners to include their songs, a practice that’s been illegal since the payola scandals in the 1950s that led to a Congressional investigation into radio DJs. Daily Dot managing editor Austin Powell recently published his investigation in…
May 1, 2018
Influencer marketing has a huge fraud problem
The influencer marketing industry is estimated to generate $2 billion a year, with $1.6 billion coming from Instagram influencers alone. That number is only set to increase, with 39 percent of marketers saying they plan to increase their influencer marketing budget this year. It’s now pretty much impossible to open up Instagram or YouTube without seeing #sponsored posts popping up from your favorite stars, from Kim Kardashian all the way down to food Instagrammers who only have a few thousand followers. But whenever there’s this much money on the line, you always have people who are trying to game the system. It’s incredibly easy these days to inflate your follower count by purchasing bots or engaging in other kinds of shady activity. If you’re a company who’s thinking of hiring a social media influencer, how can you ensure that their followers are real? Well, you’ll probably turn to someone like Erick Schwab, the COO of a company called SYLO. SYLO is a tech platform th…
Apr 23, 2018
How Think Progress generated $500,000 in donations after Trump was elected
Think Progress was founded in 2005 as an offshoot of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank. What started as a bloggy website has grown into a fully staffed news organization that employs beat writers and conducts investigative reporting. The site has generated real impact, most recently when it published a list of companies that had established corporate partnerships with the NRA. Activists seized on the list and used social media to pressure many of these companies to drop their partnerships. I recently sat down with Judd Legum, Think Progress’s founding editor, and asked him about how the site operates, why it decided to leave the Medium platform, and how it managed to generate $500,000 from its readers after Trump was elected.
Apr 16, 2018
Remembering the blogosphere before the rise of Facebook and Twitter
Technorati rankings. Full RSS feeds vs partial RSS feeds. Blogrolls. The Techmeme leaderboards. Blogspot vs Wordpress vs Typepad. If you were a blogger over the mid-aughts, these were just a few of the things you might have obsessed over as you catapulted blog post after blog post into the ether, hoping someone would notice and provide you precious links and send even more precious readers. Back then, the internet felt huge, but the number of actual content producers was tiny compared to today, and distribution of content was much less centralized. A-list bloggers duked it out while the rest of us B and C-list bloggers pined desperately for attention from these internet demigods, who they themselves only wanted recognition and legitimacy bestowed upon them by the Mainstream Media. I remember all this because I was right there at ground zero, plugging away as a blogger while I went to college and later worked as a newspaper journalist. And so was my guest, Bill Beutler, who worked at…
1 hr 10 min
Apr 9, 2018
What’s behind the explosion in fiction podcasts?
Welcome to Night Vale. The Message. Steal the Stars. Homecoming. The Bright Sessions. All are fiction podcasts that have seen downloads in the millions. Some have been optioned for television or film adaptation. All were launched in just the last few years. For much of the early to mid 20th century, millions of listeners tuned in each week to listen to radio dramas and fiction broadcasts in genres ranging from adventure (Superman) to science fiction (War of the Worlds) to crime noir (Dragnet). But by the early 60s, due to the rise of television, the radio drama faded in popularity, and most were canceled by the end of 1962. Though some broadcasters continued to dabble in the medium, most people today have grown up without having listened to a single radio play. Podcasting, however, has led to a resurgence in this kind of audio fiction, and a whole new generation of fans are tuning in to new episodes, attending live events, and ordering merchandise online. Why are we seeing this res…
Apr 2, 2018
Why podcast apps are developing their own original content
Podcasting as a medium has been around for about 13 years now, and for most of that time you’d find that most podcasts were platform agnostic. When a new episode was released, it would appear pretty much simultaneously across all podcast apps. Sure, podcasters placed most of their promotional efforts on iTunes, but that’s because it accounted for most of all podcast listening. But over the last few years, the podcast and audio app space has gotten more competitive, and because of this we’ve seen some of these apps marketing exclusive content. Spotify, for instance, has signed deals with podcast companies like Gimlet so that it gets an exclusive window on new episodes before they’re published to all the other podcast apps. In some cases, podcast apps are actually bankrolling and producing their own podcasts in an effort to differentiate themselves from other apps. The hit show Missing Richard Simmons was produced by Stitcher Premium and exclusively windowed there (this apparen…
Mar 27, 2018
Should famous music and Hollywood artists have their own media outlet?
In 2014, former Major League Baseball player Derek Jeter launched a media company with a novel premise. Called The Players’ Tribune, it’s a sports site that’s produced and written by pro athletes themselves. Many wondered if this would result in what are essentially bland, rewritten press releases that would be typed up by publicists, but in its few years of existence, The Players’ Tribune has produced some astoundingly raw first-person journalism. In 2017, for instance, NBA player Isaiah Thomas wrote about the gut-wrenching pain he felt when the Boston Celtics decided to pawn him off on another team. Kevin Durant used the site to announce his move to Golden State. While not every article at the Players’ Tribune is Pulitzer-worthy, it certainly has brought forth pro athlete perspectives that you won’t find anywhere else. Could the same idea work for famous musicians, artists, directors, and actors? Several years ago, a record label owner named Ian Wheeler launched a pub…
Mar 18, 2018
How the iTunes podcast rankings work
If you want to subscribe and listen to podcasts, there are dozens of apps to choose from, including podcast-specific apps like Stitcher and even music streaming apps like Spotify. But anyone who works in the industry knows that Apple is the king of podcasts; its podcast app, which it spun off from iTunes a few years ago, accounts for more than 50 percent of all podcast use. This is why Apple’s podcast rankings can be so important for driving discovery and downloads. There’s one master list of the top 200 most popular podcasts at any given moment, and then there are also dozens of content categories, each with its own top 200 list. Making it to the top of one of these lists can drive thousands of fresh downloads and put a podcast on the map. But how does Apple rank its podcasts? And what’s the best way to make it onto one of its lists? To answer this question, I interviewed Dan Misener, the head of audience development at a company called Pacific Content, which specializes in h…
Mar 6, 2018
Meet the guy who wants to slow down the internet
This week I interviewed a guy named Ernie Smith. Why do I think Smith is so fascinating? Because over the past decade he’s created two successful media properties, each with the absolute opposite goal of the other. The first was a Tumblr account called ShortFormBlog. It amassed over 140,000 followers and was one of the hyperreactive news aggregators that thrived in the aughts. Every single day Smith logged in and plucked the most interesting quotes and stats from news stories and served them up in a tightly-packaged news product. The blog was so successful that it was covered in the pages of both Newsweek and Time (back when these were still relevant publications). And then just when ShortFormBlog was at the height of its popularity, Smith abandoned it and launched a newsletter called Tedium. Unlike ShortFormBlog, Tedium would only be published twice a week and, instead of chasing headlines, it would tackle the most boring subjects imaginable and try to make them interesting. Seve…
Feb 26, 2018
Inside Macmillan’s 2018 podcast strategy
If you run a hit podcast, you might have a couple avenues open to your for monetization. You could host live events and charge admissions, like what we’ve seen with Slate’s Political Gabfest and Pod Save America. You could, like Gimlet Media, launch a membership program and charge $60 a year for free tshirts, exclusive bonus content, and access to a private slack channel. Or you might turn to running sponsored ads within your podcasts, an approach that generated $220 million for podcasts in 2017. But Macmillan’s podcast network is more diversified than most. The book publisher has been producing podcasts since 2007, and in addition to selling host-read sponsorships, it’s also generated revenue from running programmatic ads on its website. But what’s perhaps most interesting is how it’s leveraged podcasts to elevate the brands of its authors in order to sell more books and audiobooks. I recently sat down and interviewed Kathy Doyle, vice president of podcasting at Macmill…
Feb 19, 2018
While Facebook stumbles, Twitter’s making a comeback
For the past several years, Twitter’s been a punching bag, both for tech writers and Wall Street analysts. It remained unprofitable, was a magnet for trolls, and, worst of all, its user growth came to a halt. But in just the past few months we’ve seen some meaningful signs of life at the embattled social network. For one, it had its first profitable quarter in, well, forever. But it also saw growth in other areas. For one, though monthly active user growth is flat, it saw a sharp increase in daily active users. Also, a report from Social Flow found that Twitter traffic to news sites has increased while Facebook referral traffic has fallen. Is this the sign of a company turnaround? Or just a temporary blip at an otherwise struggling company? I recently discussed these questions with Jonathan Rick, a digital media consultant based in Washington, DC.
Feb 14, 2018
This former lawyer launched a thriving local news network in New Jersey
The last decade hasn’t been kind to local news. While the entire news industry has experienced hardship, local newspapers have been hit particularly hard. A recent article in the American Prospect detailed how newspaper chains have been bought up by private equity firms and then were systematically cut to the bone, the private equity firms wringing out every last cent of profit before closing the newspapers for good. Even tech companies have struggled to make local news profitable. AOL famously launched Patch, a network of hyperlocal news sites, only to sell it off a few years later. That’s what makes Mike Shapiro’s success so interesting. Shapiro was working as a lawyer when, in a bid to spend more time with his kids, he launched a news site for his New Jersey town. That site soon spawned two new sites, and then blossomed from there. The TAPInto network now boasts dozens of sites all across New Jersey. I recently interviewed Shapiro about how he has managed to find success i…
Feb 6, 2018
Want to create your own Wikipedia page? Call this guy
According to Alexa, Wikipedia is the sixth most visited website in the U.S. and the fifth most visited in the world. When you Google famous people, places, or companies, their Wikipedia pages usually come up as the first or second result. If you’re a company that already has a Wikipedia page, then monitoring what’s written on it is vital to your reputation management strategy. If you don’t have your own Wikipedia page, then you may aspire to create one for yourself. But this is where companies often get into trouble. Wikipedia has strict conflict of interest rules, and the site’s army of dedicated editors and admins are often quick to reverse undisclosed edits from conflicted parties. Abuse the rules too much, and you may get yourself banned or, even worse, attract attention to your page from activists who want to do your brand harm. So what’s a company to do if it wants to edit its Wikipedia page without running afoul of Wikipedia’s rules? You’ll want to call a guy lik…
Jan 31, 2018
What it takes to run a podcast consulting company
Branded podcasts are on the rise. With one out of every four Americans saying they listen to at least one podcast a month, companies are increasingly incorporating the medium into their content marketing strategies, and in some cases these branded podcasts are really taking off with listeners. The first major success of a branded podcast was The Message, a joint venture between the Panoply Network and GE. The science fiction serial has generated over 8 million downloads and, during its run, stayed at the top of the iTunes charts. Gimlet Media, one of the largest and most well-funded podcast networks, recently launched its branded content studio Gimlet Creative, and it’s since created narrative podcasts for Tinder and eBay. Suddenly, there’s strong demand for people who can leverage their podcast expertise to help companies launch podcasts that their target consumers will actually want to listen to. One of those people is Ernesto Gluecksmann. Ernesto is the co-founder of Human F…
Jan 23, 2018
What kind of content should you put behind your paywall?
For more than a decade, publishers attempted to grow ad-supported businesses that depended on massive scale and distribution of free content, but in recent years, many have acknowledged that purely advertising-based business models simply don’t work in a world in which Facebook and Google are vacuuming up nearly all ad dollars that migrate online. So they’ve begun asking their readers to pony up, launching various forms of paywalls that require paid subscriptions for those wanting to access gated content. There are three kinds of paywalls that have emerged: there’s the hard paywall where virtually all content is gated off. There’s the metered paywall, where the user gets access to a certain number of free articles before the paywall is triggered. And then there’s the freemium model, where a publisher will publish most of its content for free while reserving extra goodies for those willing to pony up money. So what should these extra goodies be? Discounted tickets to live ev…