How Complex Media became one of the most innovative digital publishers

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How Complex Media became one of the most innovative digital publishers

For the past few years, the media industry has looked to companies like Vice, BuzzFeed, and Vox as leaders in digital innovation — the models for how any publisher should operate in a post-print world. But I would argue that Complex, though it gets a fraction of the coverage of those other three companies, deserves credit for its versatility and business acumen. Not only has it generated impressive audience numbers across a range of media properties, but it’s also proved adept at diversifying its revenue streams, in effect defying the harsh economics of internet publishing. [link]

Ever thought of hiring a ghostwriter?

Most executives understand the importance of publishing industry thought leadership articles but are too busy with the task of actually running their businesses to set aside time to write them. That’s why they hire seasoned journalists like me to ghostwrite these articles for them. Learn more about these kinds of services over here: [link]

Other news:

A Spotify acquisition of The Ringer would provide a good counterbalance to its Gimlet acquisition. Gimlet produces super high-cost, narrative podcasts while The Ringer works primarily in low-cost, conversational podcasts. [link]

Life was arguably the most popular print magazine ever published. Here's why: [link]

How does a news organization create content for a platform that isn't very interested in news? Publishers are struggling to answer this question with regard to TikTok. [link]

I'm encountering more and more examples in which a publisher, almost completely by accident, turns one of its behind-the-scenes editors into a YouTube star. Video talent sometimes lurks where you least expect it. [link]

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What's behind The Atlantic's expansion into short fiction?

(Creative Commons image via needpix)

Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my tech and media newsletter. You can subscribe over here or just click on this handy little button:

Why is The Atlantic launching a section for short fiction?

Whenever a publisher launches a new content vertical, I’m able to at least grasp the business argument for such an expansion, even if I don’t agree with it, but The Atlantic’s announcement that it’s launching a section for short fiction left me scratching my head. “We’ve decided to create a new destination for those who seek the intellectual nourishment that fiction provides,” wrote executive editor Adrienne LaFrance. “ … We still need stories, and fiction specifically—storytelling is a defining characteristic that makes us human.”

That’s all well and good, but is there an actual business argument for publishing more short stories?

Decades ago, short fiction was a viable business, for publishers and writers alike. Pulp genre magazines like Asimov’s Science Fiction and Analog had hundreds of thousands of readers, each. Glossy magazines like Esquire, Playboy, The New Yorker, and, yes, The Atlantic Monthly published short stories in every issue. A writer could conceivably make a middle class living from writing nothing but short fiction, and a few did.

Today, that’s not the case. Most of those pulp genre magazines shut down, and the few that still survive only have a couple thousand subscribers between them. Most literary magazines that do exist are funded by universities. Of the glossy mags that ran short fiction, only The New Yorker continues the tradition. Even The Atlantic sharply decreased its short story output back in 2005. 

Midlist authors that have no problem selling novels to the Big Five publishers can’t get those same publishers to take any interest in their short fiction collections, which means they have to resort to publishing them in the small press. A “professional rate” for short fiction, according to some writers organizations, is 8 cents per word, which is a joke. Making a living on writing nothing but short fiction now seems about as likely as making a living writing nothing but poetry.

Which brings me back to the question: what’s the business case for expanding The Atlantic’s short fiction section? Aside from The New Yorker’s “Cat Person,” which was a weird viral phenomenon back in 2017, short stories don’t generate a lot of traffic.

It’s worth noting that The Atlantic recently rolled out a metered paywall. Perhaps someone in the consumer revenue department looked at the site’s web analytics and found that readers of the magazine’s short fiction were more likely to convert into paying subscribers. If you’re someone at The Atlantic who knows the answer to this question and wants to come onto my podcast to talk about it, I’m all ears.

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, most only have a passing understanding of how a core group of a few thousand volunteer editors perform the vast majority of contributions to its articles.

One of those editors is Bill Beutler. For the past decade, Bill has consulted with hundreds of brands, helping them to edit their Wikipedia pages without running afoul of the platform’s strict rules. I recently interviewed Bill about the problems that have plagued Wikipedia for the past decade and the issues its community will need to address in the decade to come.

To listen to the interview, subscribe to The Business of Content on your favorite podcast player. I also rounded up some of the biggest insights from the interview over here: [link]

This newsletter doesn’t have any advertising

So how does it make money? Because people who think I’m pretty knowledgeable about the business of content hire me to run their companies’ content marketing. White papers. Ghostwriting. Thought leadership articles. Newsletters. Read about my full range of services over here: [link]

Three terrible reasons to close down your news site’s comments sections

Adriana Lacy, the audience engagement editor at the LA Times, wrote a recent piece for her Substack about the continuing epidemic of news websites closing down their reader comment sections. Lacy pointed to one publication that justified its decision by claiming that “just 2,340 people produce more than half of the comments.” Because this was such a tiny fraction of the publishers’ overall audience, the argument went, maintaining a comments section just wasn’t worth the effort.  

Lacy’s retort to this line of thinking is most succinctly summed up in the headline to her piece: “Your comments section is only as good as your strategy.”

I actually wrote an entire column last year about why I think publishers that shut down their comments section made a colossal mistake. In it, I laid out the audience and business case for not only keeping your comments section, but actually investing more resources into it.  

I won’t rehash all those arguments here, but I do want to address three common justifications that publishers will cite when closing down their reader forums:

“The comments section was populated by toxic trolls who who did nothing but shout at each other.”

This is the classic sign that you were devoting absolutely no resources to moderating your comments section. I’ve worked at enough publications where both the editors and writers rarely even glanced at the comments, and this kind of lazei faire approach invites in all sorts of trollish behavior. 

“Only a small percentage of our readers were even commenting.”

This argument is flawed for two reasons. The first stems back to the first justification, in that if you allow trolls to sprout up like weeds, then of course your comments section will look uninviting to readers.

Secondly, just because only a small portion of your readership leaves comments doesn’t mean that those commenters don’t have value. As I laid out in the column I linked above, your commenters are potentially your most dedicated audience members and often punch far above their weight in terms of consuming your content and driving revenue. 

“Comments are better suited for social media sites.”

This is the one I always find the most bewildering given the amount of moaning publishers engage in about how the platforms are cannibalizing their revenue base, and here these same publishers are outsourcing their audience relationships to those social platforms? 

Anyway, check out my full column on this subject if you haven’t read it.

Want to interact with me directly?

I have a secret Facebook group that’s only promoted to subscribers of this newsletter. I try to post exclusive commentary to it sometimes and have regular discussions with its members about the tech/media space. Go here to join. [link]

Spotify’s podcast strategy is paying off

Morgan Stanley released the results of a recent survey that found that Spotify is the most popular podcast listening app in the U.S., capturing 24% of the market compared to Apple’s 21%.

Given that up until recently industry watchers would confidently claim that Apple had at least 50% market share, this is pretty huge news if true. What’s especially monumental about this news is that it didn’t result in Apple losing podcast listenership; in fact, Apple listening increased by 13.1%. That means that Spotify brought new listeners into the podcast fold, which was the best case scenario that some industry watchers -- including myself -- hoped for. 

Now it’s time to see how Apple responds. I predicted last year that it would have no choice but to commission its own original podcasts, and there are some rumors that it’s moved forward in that endeavor. Losing market share to Spotify places Apple Music at risk, and Apple’s made too big a bet on its services division for it to let that happen. I’d say that its initial podcast slate will be announced by April at the latest.

Some other quick hits

A fascinating look at the fall of College Humor. One interesting tidbit: its streaming service had 100,000 paying subscribers. [link]

The video game industry currently generates $120 billion. This long piece makes a persuasive case that the industry is still only at the beginning of its growth potential. [link]

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.

Spotify is becoming the YouTube for podcasting

Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my tech and media newsletter. You can subscribe over here or just click on this handy little button:

Spotify is becoming the YouTube for podcasting

Spotify announced this week an ad product that will better integrate advertising into its podcasting streams. This means, according to The Verge, that “it’ll begin inserting ads into its shows in real-time, based on what it knows about its users, like where they’re located, what type of device they use, and their age, similarly to how the broader web operates.”

The move is Spotify’s latest salvo in its quest to become the YouTube for podcasting. Most other podcast listening apps serve as mere conduits; you download a podcast file from a web server and then the podcast app will play it for you on demand. If any ad is included in the episode, it was inserted prior to the download.

Spotify’s Streaming Ad Insertion effectively marries content distribution with monetization. Like YouTube, Facebook, and virtually every other major social platform, it’s able to leverage the massive reams of data it has on its users when serving up the ad, and this, theoretically, gives it a distinct advantage over traditional podcast ad networks.

Right now, this ad tech is only being applied to Spotify’s exclusive programming, but its executives have already dropped hints that this could be rolled out to all users who opt into it, meaning that any podcaster could potentially benefit from the program as long as they agree to let Spotify take its cut. This wouldn’t be dissimilar to YouTube’s partner program, which generates up to $26 million a year for the platform’s biggest stars.

Of course those opportunities will bring with them plenty of tradeoffs. Famous YouTubers have experienced all sorts of upheavals to their revenue streams as YouTube constantly tweaks its ad delivery algorithm. Don’t be surprised if, five years from now, we start reading stories about how Spotify podcasters saw their revenue cut in half after Spotify shifted its advertising focus.

I’m particularly interested in how a podcast revenue share with Spotify would work. The platform makes much more money from paying subscribers than it does from advertising, so is there a potential scenario in which a participating podcaster could get a cut of that much larger pile of money? The Verge article I linked to above had this tantalizing detail: “[Paying] users also hear podcast ads, unlike when they listen to music.”

More food for thought: if a podcaster opts in to Spotify’s advertising platform, would that mean they have to strip any ads they sold themselves from the mp3 file before uploading it to Spotify? On YouTube, creators have managed to sell host sponsorships while also allowing preroll/midroll advertising, so the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Like the articles I write?

Most people don’t realize this, but I’m actually a freelance writer and content marketing consultant. I manage company blogs, ghost-write thought leadership articles, write white papers, and even manage organizations’ social media accounts and newsletters. You can learn about my full range of services over here [link]

Will listeners ever pay for podcasts? Some already are

Last year, the Interactive Advertising Bureau released a report estimating that the podcast industry generated $479 million in 2018 and is projected to make $1 billion in 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 gate their content behind paywalls, 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 subscribers to listen to paywalled episodes on their podcast player of choice. I recently interviewed its co-founder Amira Valliani about how she’s solving the paywall problem and why she thinks paid podcast subscriptions will eventually scale.

To listen to the interview, subscribe to The Business of Content on your favorite podcast player. I also rounded up some of the biggest insights from the interview over here: [link]

The magazine-to-Hollywood pipeline

The Baffler published a fascinating article claiming that the rise of streaming platforms and their thirst for new IP has led to magazine writers pitching more narrative-driven feature articles in the hopes that those articles get optioned for TV or film. In this telling, Hollywood is effectively subsidizing magazine journalism to the extent that magazines serve as a mere middleman between writer and producer. The Baffler piece opens up with an anecdote about an LA producer staying up til midnight so he can be among the first to read a brand new David Grann article, which then goes on to be optioned for $5 million.

Frankly, I’m skeptical of the author’s claims about the far-reaching effects this has had on the entire journalism industry. Have streaming platforms ushered forth tens of billions of dollars for new TV shows and movies? Definitely. Does this mean that magazine pieces are getting optioned more often? I wouldn’t doubt it. But the chances of your average magazine piece getting picked up by Hollywood for a significant amount of money are still infinitesimally low, and I can’t imagine that your average journalist is calculating this potential outcome into every magazine pitch.  

Want to interact with me directly?

I have a secret Facebook group that’s only promoted to subscribers of this newsletter. I try to post exclusive commentary to it sometimes and have regular discussions with its members about the tech/media space. Go here to join. [link]

The significance of 100 million Apple News users

With a new year upon us, Apple published an article to its website touting its growth for a range of services that included Apple Music, Apple TV, and the App Store. The Apple News section is short and only contains one number: 100 million. That’s the number of “monthly active users in the US, UK, Australia and Canada.” That’s up from the 85 million MAUs that Apple touted in late January 2019.

What’s particularly telling is that Apple didn’t include a number for Apple News+, the $9.99-a-month version that gives readers access to hundreds of magazines and a few daily newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal. That’s because subscriptions have reportedly only numbered in the low six figures, with many publishers (anonymously) saying they’re not generating much revenue from the partnership.

The same can be said for Apple’s free version of Apple News. It delivers plenty of eyeballs, but ad revenue is still scarce. So does that make the 100 million number completely meaningless? Of course not. That’s a huge audience of users who are coming to the app to do nothing but consume news content from traditional media outlets. Some outlets have become savvy about using up their ad inventory to either promote their own paid subscriptions or to drive other actions, like getting users to sign up for their email newsletters.

ESPN’s huge get

Variety broke the news that ESPN hired a guy named Omar Raja, who was previously working for WarnerMedia’s Bleacher Report.

It's hard to underscore how big of a poach this is for ESPN. Raja founded House of Highlights, one of the most impressive Instagram successes in the platform's history. He took a format first pioneered by ESPN’s SportsCenter -- the game highlight -- and adapted it for the social web in such an effective way that a multi-billion dollar media conglomerate felt the need to snap him up. Under Bleacher Report’s banner, Raja expanded House of Highlights onto other social platforms and even a live event series.

And now he’s at ESPN. According to the Variety piece:

Raja will serve as the main voice of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Instagram account,which has 15.2 million followers, and will play a role in devising content for ESPN’s mobile app. “He will join us in a multi-faceted role focused across the board, not just a single platform,” says Ryan Spoon, senior vice president of digital and social content at ESPN, in an interview. “It includes our own platforms, but he will also think about new content, new voices, and ways to deliver content to our evolving properties.”

I’d be really curious to learn the terms of his contract. More specifically, I’d love to find out how much money it took for ESPN to lure him away.

***

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.

My 2019 in review

Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my tech and media newsletter. You can subscribe over here or just click on this handy little button:

Hey newsletter subscribers! I don’t spend a lot of time writing about myself in this newsletter, so I’m hoping you’ll indulge me for this one installment. Like nearly every other content creator on the internet, I can’t resist the desire to look back at the year behind me and take stock of both my successes and failures. 

Let’s do this!

Personal life

This year I celebrated my third year of marriage with my wife Meera. I turned 35. We hosted several great parties, and I even invented my own tequila-based cocktail

I ran a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon, and two sprint triathlons. Overall, I ran over 500 miles in addition to a lot of swimming, biking, hiking, ultimate frisbee playing, and weight lifting. 

Perhaps my biggest accomplishment was finally getting my Crohn’s disease under some semblance of control. I’ve had the autoimmune disease since 2008, and for the last few years in particular I’ve struggled to get my digestive system under control without the assistance of life-altering steroids. After two years spent cycling through various biologic drugs, I finally landed on a combination that seems to work, and I’ve been steroid free since February. I can’t even begin to explain what this has done for my quality of life, my productivity, and my hope for the future. 

People who don’t suffer from chronic diseases have no concept of the toll they take on your daily life. If I were to add up all the time over the last decade I spent suffering from flair ups, going to-and-from doctors appointments, getting blood work done, and haggling with insurers, then it’d probably tally up to about an entire year of my life. Think about that for a second: I’ve only had nine years worth of productivity compared to a healthy person’s 10. Imagine if you were forced to take off an entire year from your job, exercise, and social life and how that would impact your career success and happiness. It’s been a frustrating decade, to say the least. But now I have hope that the next one will be better.

While the remission was a positive development, I’ve faced some other health frustrations. Despite near constant diet and exercise, I’ve had difficulty losing weight, which has been a frustration for me. And while I’m proud of the amount of mileage I put into my running, I didn’t hit many personal bests this year.

My consulting work

Many people who follow me on the internet aren’t even fully aware of how I make my living. You can read about my full range of services over here, but suffice it to say that companies hire me to work on different aspects of their content marketing -- ghostwriting articles for executives, writing white papers, running their social media operations, or even devising an entire soup-to-nuts content strategy.

In 2019, I stayed moderately busy. For some months, I had more work than I could handle. For others, just a trickle of projects. I don’t always consider the latter to be a bad thing, because I use the downtime to work on things like this newsletter and my podcast, the kind of work I truly enjoy more than anything else.

This year brought some interesting projects. I got to help generate press for the launch of the International Swimming League. I collaborated with POLITICO to create content for its advertising partners. I wrote dozens of white papers, articles, and other content pieces for a number of clients that included a venture capital firm, solar power company, science fact-checking platform, and several startups. And I spent the better part of the last month composing a 50-page strategy document for an exciting media company that launches this year!

One frustration I had this year was that there were a few larger projects that seemed imminent but ultimately fell through. When you’re a freelancer, you’re constantly chasing the retainer clients, the ones that can provide month-to-month stability, and yet not many came through this year. Scrounging up ad hoc projects can result in a decent living, but without the steady retainers, I never felt completely stable.  

My articles

For this section, I’ll be discussing articles that were published outside of this newsletter.

My most popular article for the year was likely my January piece for New York Magazine on whether it’s time for the government to apply more regulation to social media influencers. I never saw the analytics for the piece, but it spent several days listed as one of the most popular articles on the site and I still get emails about it to this day.

I wrote about 20 pieces for What’s New In Publishing, one of my favorite outlets to write for because they pay promptly and let me write about whatever I happen to find interesting. My most popular articles for the outlet include an article about how newsletters innovations drive revenue, advice on whether you should invest your resources in Facebook Watch or YouTube, and an explanation of how BuzzFeed is solving native advertising’s scale problem.

I used to post a lot of my content to Medium, but I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with how the platform has tinkered with its distribution, cutting me off from the users who followed me over the years. These days, it reserves almost all of its distribution for articles published behind its metered paywall, and midway through this year I decided to start publishing my pieces exclusively to this newsletter, though I continue to publish transcripts of my podcast to Medium.

Of the few articles I did publish to Medium this year, the most popular was about the race to build a podcast recommendation engine and why it matters. I also predicted (correctly) that Apple would start producing its own original podcasts. Other reader favorites include a rumination on why the “1,000 true fan” theory is overrated and an explainer on how YouTube is rigged against independent creators.   

My podcast

This month marks the two-year anniversary of launching The Business of Content, and one of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t launch it sooner. While writing will always remain my true passion, I’ve had so much fun sitting down for long-form interviews with media entrepreneurs and executives. The level of intimacy you get with your audience is incredible, and I love it when listeners email me to say they’re fans of the show.

My total number of downloads this year nearly quadrupled, and I’m particularly proud of my episodes about Techmeme’s daily podcast, Vox’s podcast strategy, and an indie newsletter that’s converted over 10,000 paying subscribers.

I’m actually on the lookout for new interview subjects in 2020, especially those who run profitable newsletters and have seen success with online video (professional YouTubers fascinate me!). I also like interviewing founders of niche media companies. If you fit this description, definitely shoot me an email.

This newsletter

This was a year of turbocharged growth for this newsletter. It saw 34% growth in subscribers, which is much better than the 7% growth in 2018.

What caused the uptick? For one, I finally abandoned Tinyletter and switched to Substack for distribution. It really is a shame how much Mailchimp let Tinyletter die on the vine; it once had a thriving little community of writers, but after years of neglect, it was clear that Mailchimp was dedicating essentially no resources to its upkeep. I benefited by switching to Substack just as it was generating a lot of buzz and signing up a lot of high-profile writers for the platform.

I also benefited from switching my article publishing from Medium to the newsletter. This led to a sharp increase in social media shares that pointed directly to the newsletter itself, increasing my conversion rate. I wrote about why Apple’s launch of a daily newsletter was a big deal, why Patreon’s $1 million milestone was so significant, and why the major tech platforms lost interest in streaming live sports. Of all my monthly output, the writing I enjoy most is the stuff I write for this newsletter, and my only regret is that I didn’t produce more of it.  

Brief thoughts on the decade

Given that we’ve crossed into the 2020s, many writers have also published lengthy articles looking back at the last decade. I’ll mostly refrain from that, other than to say that the 2010s were a frustrating decade for me. I continually tried to wrestle my Crohn’s disease into submission, to the point where I was actually contemplating life-altering surgery. I battled with weight gain, slowly accruing 35 pounds despite near constant dieting and exercise.

Most frustrating of all was my career. I took several entrepreneurial risks over the last several years, burning through considerable financial savings in an effort to build a scalable business. None of those risks paid off in the way I hoped they would, and even though I had plenty of career highlights since 2010, I’m nowhere near where I wanted to be at 35, and my only hope is that those risks will pay off at a later date. That hope is still alive, but somewhat muted. No longer does success feel preordained.

The year ahead

So what are my goals heading into 2020? Healthwise, I’d like to make progress on my competition speed and post significant gains during my races. I have a few ideas on how to switch up my training to increase my endurance, and having more control over my Crohn’s disease will make it easier to train without interruption.

Career-wise, my goals are always the same each year: find a way to create more of my own content and monetize it directly. It’s not that I don’t get any enjoyment out of the consulting work, but I’m happiest when creating content under my own name on subjects I care about. I have a few irons in the fire on this front, and my hope is 2020 is the year that they pay off.

Well, that’s all I have for this year’s review. As always, thank you for reading, and I’m especially thankful to those who take the time to share my content with others. I wouldn’t be where I am now without you.

Toodles!

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.

Why Apple’s daily newsletter is a bigger deal than you realize

(Creative Commons image via Pxhere)

Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my tech and media newsletter. You can subscribe over here or just click on this handy little button:

Why Apple’s new daily newsletter is a bigger deal than you realize

9to5Mac reports that Apple News has launched a daily newsletter called “Good Morning.” It’ll basically be an email version of the Apple News app, curating a range of stories from traditional news publishers. “The summaries are clearly written by Apple’s editorial team and are not merely quotes from the source articles,” wrote 9to5Mac.

This might seem like a rather boring development. In a world in which nearly every news outlet already publishes a morning newsletter, why is adding another one into the mix a significant development?

Because Apple News isn’t just another news outlet. Speak to anyone who both works at a media company and has access to that company’s web analytics, and they’ll tell you that news curation apps like Google News, SmartNews, and Flipboard have generated significant traffic in recent years, and no app has delivered more eyeballs than Apple News. For some publishers, Apple News has surpassed Facebook as a traffic source.

With its morning newsletter, Apple seems to be sending it to anyone who has opted into Apple News’s email alerts over the last several years, which means it’s starting off with a base list of millions of emails. Even if it only sees an average open rate of about 20%, its potential for traffic referrals is immense.

It’ll also produce benefits for publishers in other ways. For instance, most Apple News users are opening the app on their mobile devices, whereas a newsletter version will lead to more exposure to desktop users. Given that 42% of website traffic still comes from desktop, that’s a significant audience that Apple News hasn’t had access to until now.

More important, this desktop traffic is significantly more monetizable. While Apple News has generated gargantuan readership, most of that reading took place on the mobile app, which is notoriously bad at producing real revenue for publishers. A Slate article published a few years ago famously reported that “Slate makes more money from a single article that gets 50,000 page views on its site than it does from the 6 million page views it receives on Apple News in an average month.” 

If you’re on a PC desktop and click on a newsletter link, then presumably you’ll be led directly to the publisher’s website. The publisher will not only be able to directly monetize your visit, but it’ll have an easier time converting you into a repeat visitor and, possibly, a paying subscriber. 

Of course, these are just predictions at this point. And the publishers that stand to benefit the most are the ones regularly featured in Apple News -- publishers like The New York Times, Washington Post, and BuzzFeed. But don’t be surprised if, six months from now, you start seeing media executives gush to the trade press about how great Apple has been for their audience growth numbers. 

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.

To listen to the interview, subscribe to The Business of Content on your favorite podcast player, or you can read an article version of the interview here: [link]

Want to interact with me directly?

I have a secret Facebook group that’s only promoted to subscribers of this newsletter. I try to post exclusive commentary to it sometimes and have regular discussions with its members about the tech/media space. Go here to join. [link]

The internet’s sketch comedy boom

The Ringer published a fantastic profile of Nick Ciarelli and Brad Evans, two internet personalities who have found a devoted audience by posting sketch comedy videos to Twitter. I recently discovered the two when I stumbled across their hilarious parody of Barstool Sports.

Ciarelli and Evans are part of a much larger internet sketch comedy scene that’s really blossomed in recent years, and I don’t think it’s received enough coverage. 

There are two main forms of traditional television: reality TV and scripted shows. Reality TV is cheap to produce, so online video creators were able to easily mimic it, first with vlogging and then later with the kind of episodic, repeatable formats like the ones found with Hot Ones or Mr. Beast’s giveaway videos.

Scripted television is much more expensive, making it difficult for aspiring practitioners to replicate it on YouTube. But sketch comedy provides the perfect gateway, allowing for scripted, narrative content that doesn’t require an entire production team and gobs of cash. As The Ringer profile noted, a recent Ciarelli and Evans sketch only cost $6 and was shot outside of a Burger King.

And this is great for us as media consumers, because sketch comedy, as short as it is, has the ability to be incredibly subversive and experimental. Some of our greatest actors and screenwriters got their start at places like Saturday Night Live and Mr. Show, and I find it fascinating to consider what impact the current crop of internet sketch comedy artists will have on pop culture in the years to come.

The losing battle against social media influencer fraud

So this week I appeared as a guest on a panel show. This particular episode focused on social media influencers, particularly how governments and platforms are regulating them to curb abuse and fraud. My segment starts at about 16:50 in case you want to skip ahead! [link]

A rare, unfiltered look inside Alex Jones's conspiracy empire

From NYT Mag: “I Worked for Alex Jones. I Regret It.”

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.

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