BuzzFeed wants its readers to play the viral lottery

It's great that BuzzFeed wants to pay for user generated content, but is it paying creators fairly?

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BuzzFeed wants its readers to play the viral lottery

I think it’s generally well known that BuzzFeed publishes user generated content from what it refers to as its “community,” but I haven’t actually seen much reporting about how this community fits within BuzzFeed’s business model or audience development strategy. So I was glad to see Digiday shed some light on how active this UGC section is:

Community has about 1,500 people, on average, actively contributing a post each week, according to Wang. Roughly 15,000 to 20,000 posts are submitted a month by contributors, and about 25 to 30 posts get promoted on the BuzzFeed site by editors (otherwise, the posts are essentially hidden on the site).

Digiday was reporting these stats out because BuzzFeed is about to debut a way to monetarily reward community members whose articles go viral:

Contributors to BuzzFeed Community … can opt in to have their posts be a part of the eight-week Summer Writers’ Challenge running from June 15 to August 15. The best posts on Community are amplified across BuzzFeed’s site by editors. The program’s payments are tiered, based on the number of page views each submission receives: posts with over 150,000 views will earn contributors $150; posts with over 500,000 views will earn $500; over 1 million views will get $2,000; and the highest tier of 4 million views will pay out $10,000.

While it’s always great to see content creators getting paid for their work, I would extend the same criticism that’s been lodged against Snapchat’s Spotlight, which doles out up to $1 million every day to the best-performing creators on its platform. Under BuzzFeed’s proposed system, there’s no way for a writer to build out a reliable income stream or benefit when their articles don’t reach the massively high thresholds the site sets for payouts.

Whether a community article goes viral is entirely reliant on a BuzzFeed staffer plucking it from the backend of the site and promoting it on the site’s homepage and massive social media channels. Because of this dynamic, BuzzFeed is much more akin to a lottery system than a content monetization platform.

The writer payouts will likely incentivize more users into creating content for BuzzFeed, and BuzzFeed gets to benefit from their work even when an article doesn’t hit the 150,000 view threshold. That’s because BuzzFeed sells programmatic display ads on its website. It can also entice readers of UGC into clicking on more articles, which generates even more advertising income for BuzzFeed.

So at the end of the day, BuzzFeed gets to dangle out a relatively small sum of money and see a huge return on that investment — certainly a higher return than what it gets from its salaried writers.

My latest: How many videos does it take to get to 1 million YouTube subscribers?

It's generally assumed that a YouTuber has "made it" when they've reached 1 million subscribers. But how many videos do they have to publish in order to build that audience? I crunched some numbers to find out.

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Can a publisher ever truly “own” its audience?

Publishers think of email as this neutral distribution platform, but big tech companies like Google and Apple are becoming more hands on in terms of how they regulate email, making it more and more difficult for publishers to control that relationship.

Mark Stenberg published a good piece about how publishers have deluded themselves into thinking that their email lists allow them to “own” their audiences:

Recent events have made it abundantly clear that, in shifting to prioritize email, publishers might simply be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. So long as Apple, Google and Microsoft still control the vast majority of our inboxes, newsletters will remain subject to the caprice of the platforms …

… People have turned to email because it avoids algorithms, but in fact it only minimizes them. We turned to email because it is direct, but in fact it is still mitigated by email service providers and inbox platforms. We turned to email because it offers us a chance to read great writing without wading through the morass of the web, but in fact the email-reading experience remains clunky and disjointed, at best.

On a related note, the LA Times wrote about Gmail’s “promotions” tab and the anxiety it causes for newsletter writers who want to get out of it and into the main inbox:

“There are people who get [my newsletter] in their primary inbox every single time, but there’s other people who maybe never ever got a chance to become a reader of the newsletter, because everything from their welcome email to their first 10 [issues] all went to the Promos folder,” said the MailChimp writer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear that deliverability issues would scare away his newsletter’s advertisers.

He estimated that between 5% and 10% of his Gmail-based subscribers never see a single thing he sends them. Falling into that gap is his own Gmail account, which he uses for troubleshooting. Despite engaging with every issue in the manner of an enthusiastic reader, the writer has never received his own newsletter in his primary inbox.

How much time do you spend worrying about Gmail's "promotions" folder? I kind of figure that my audience is sophisticated enough that if they want to read my newsletter, they'll figure out a way to get it into the correct inbox.

How Apple tarnished its brand within the podcast community

Nick Quah published a piece outlining all the various complaints both podcasters and podcast listeners have lodged against Apple in recent months as it’s rolled out a number of platform updates. Ultimately, I agree with Quah’s conclusion:

Separate and apart from my moderate skepticism about this Apple Podcasts Subscriptions push, I find the manner in which the company has handled the disruptions of the past few weeks to be genuinely unsettling. Beyond the instabilities and usability problems themselves, what frustrated many podcast publishers (and myself, watching from afar) about this stretch has been the company’s poor communication with the podcast-publishing community in the midst of this infrastructural turmoil. A common complaint that came bundled with the tips on Apple Podcasts problems flowing into my inbox was the charge that the company’s publisher-support systems were painfully slow and obtuse relative to other platforms. This does not breed confidence, let alone faith, and I suspect it puts podcast creators in an incredibly difficult position … As far as podcasts are concerned, this simply doesn’t seem like a company that’s really listening.

Apple has lost a lot of trust within the podcast community over the past few months, and I couldn't in good faith recommend that any podcast utilize the company's subscription platform.

Using Facebook ads to promote your book

Jane Friedman published an incredibly detailed breakdown of how authors can use Facebook ads to promote their books. Definitely something I'd like to try at some point.

ICYMI: Why you should adapt your podcast episodes into multiple formats

Jaclyn Schiff’s Podreacher helps podcasters convert their episodes into web articles.

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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 For a full bio, go here.