Re-thinking online publishing

by Andy Howard on December 29, 2012

The Wirecutter

Publishing less can be worth more. ‘Buffeted by the Web, but Now Riding It‘ over at NYTimes tells the story of an online publisher publishing less. As editor of Gizmodo, Brian Lam boosted the site’s traffic to a peak of 180 million page views from 13 million in the five years he was there. He broke the infamous ‘How Apple Lost the iPhone 4‘ story. Then the Google game burned him out:

I came to hate the Web, hated chasing the next post or rewriting other people’s posts just for the traffic.

Traffic, aggregation, Google gaming, dissemination. These can become the objectives for publishers when their business is maximising advertising impressions. From ‘How The Huffington Post ate the Internet‘:

The ethos of the HuffPost newsroom was winning the Google search. “That,” says a former employee, “was the thrill.” Not the origination of the content, but the dissemination. Huffington Post, they understood, was not an enterprise whose core purpose was the creation of works of journalism—as significant or mundane as that can be. It was in the content business, which created all sorts of possibilities of what it could gather and, with a new headline and assorted tags, send back out, HuffPost’s logo affixed.

Back to our burned out Gizmodo editor. Ad-supported media business models all depend on scale – advertising rates go lower all the time. Online publishing success, like that of HuffPo, relies on constant publishing. So Lam pursued a different model:

He came up with his own version of a gadget site. But instead of chasing down every tidbit of tech news, he built The Wirecutter, a recommendation site that posts six to 12 updates a month — not a day — and began publishing in partnership with The Awl, a federation of blogs founded by two other veterans of Gawker Media, Choire Sicha and Alex Balk.

The Wirecutter recommends the best product for each gadget category. No options, no ratings. Just the best product. High quality evergreen content. The site hosts fewer than 350,000 unique visitors per month, which is fine for the business model – most of the site’s revenue is earned from affiliates (mainly Amazon). Revenue is currently around $50,000 per month and doubling every quarter. The pace of the business is slower, more manageable, more sustainable. And perhaps the greatest satisfaction for the publishers is the production of high quality, optimised, evergreen content. Sounds more fulfilling than gaming Google.

NextDraft

by Andy Howard on December 16, 2012

Here’s a great idea I reckon we’ll be seeing more of. NextDraft is a daily email summary of “the day’s most fascinating news” by Dave Pell. It’s very good, and it’s an interesting model. Subscribers don’t say what they’re interested in to receive personalised news. Subscribers don’t receive email content according to what their friends are reading. Subscribers get the most important news of the day, straight up. In Dave’s words:

Each morning I visit about fifty news sites and from that swirling nightmare of information quicksand, I pluck the top ten most fascinating items of the day, which I deliver with a fast, pithy wit that will make your inbox vibrate with delight.

I’ve been reading NextDraft for a few weeks and it’s awesome. It filters out the noise and presents the news that matters. Plus I always learn something new. Sign up if you like the sound of it.

A related thought: we’ve seen brilliant daily emails become immensely valuable before. DailyCandy sold for $125m in 2008. Thrillist evolved from a daily newsletter to an online lifestyle publication and member-only eCommerce platform with annual revenue upwards of $40 million. I think we’ll be seeing more useful newsletters, each published by experts across different categories. They might filter news for specific topics. They might advise the best fashion deals online right now. They might feature one piece of limited art each day. Once subscribers trust the voice, there’s potential to shift to a transactional business model and transition subscribers to purchasers. It’s not just a newsletter database anymore – it’s a collection of people who, over time, trust and listen to the recommendations they receive each day. That’s a valuable audience.

While we’re talking email newsletters: Unroll.me is doing a reasonable job of keeping my inbox under control.

Inventioni.st

by Andy Howard on October 28, 2012

Less ads, more brand platforms, better products. That’s the thinking from the world’s top marketers. Coca-Cola is backing a content strategy and Nike has reduced advertising spend by 40% over the past three years in favour of making stuff (even as the total marketing budget has steadily climbed upward to hit a record $2.4 billion last year). Smart. Brand experiences come from products, platforms, from touching and feeling and maybe even living a brand. Creating awesome brand experiences is really hard and takes more than just ‘technology’. The ‘content’ – as it’s so often put – is the hardest part. In Dave Trott’s words:

You don’t watch the telly when it’s switched off. And you don’t listen to an iPod, CD, or a vinyl unless it’s got some music on it.

Storytelling. Creating an enduring experience. Having a big idea that’s really good. Being useful and solving problems. Innovating with marketing and products. Baking the messaging into the product and delivering on the promise. Building an audience of genuinely interested people. Reaching customers. Retaining customers. Empowering advocates. Pivoting when the product doesn’t fit the market anymore. These are some of the challenges. Pulling it off takes time, some cash and a good belt of genius.

So how should agencies respond and adapt? The best direction I’ve seen is from Winston Binch of Deutsch LA, whose ‘Setting the digital course forward‘ post a few months back had me nodding the whole way through. Winston’s set the course more permanently now with a new service from Deutsch LA called Inventioni.st.

Inventioni.st feels like a product development lab and lean startup accelerator mashed up and I really like the vibe. I love how Bud Caddell (SVP, Director of Invention) expresses the mission on his blog.. I kinda got it from Inventioni.st, but I really get it after reading Bud’s post. The most powerful parts from Bud:

We’re not a replacement for your advertising, we’re a booster engine for your business. In most institutions, 90% of strategic plans are never realized and 70% of change plans fail. CMOs need quicker wins. We work in 5-day idea sprints, 45-day prototyping cycles, and 6-month product launches.

I also get it after checking out ‘The official compendium of inventions that inspire us‘ at Inventioni.st. Take a look and you’ll see where Inventioni.st (and the ad industry) is headed. It’s exciting. The mission and model feels bang on to me, and man, what a crew. These dudes are great. If you don’t read their blogs already, go hit up Some things that matter to me and What consumes me. Good luck guys. You’ll rock it.

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