Every company eventually tries to become a media company
PLUS: Are publishers underestimating Twitter as a traffic driver?
Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my media newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:
Let’s jump into it…
Every company eventually tries to become a media company
Axios reports that the stock trading platform Robinhood is launching a standalone, independent media company:
The entity will build on the success of Robinhood's popular daily markets newsletter, Snacks, and will serve as a branding and customer acquisition tool.
Sherwood Media has been set up as an independent LLC that will exist as a subsidiary of Robinhood, in part to ensure that the content produced within Sherwood remains editorially independent.
The other week, I wrote about the business newsletter The Hustle and why it was acquired by HubSpot, a SaaS tech company. My piece included this quote from HubSpot’s former SVP of marketing Kieran Flanagan:
Instead of the traditional model of having a software company embedded inside of a media company, we predict that the next generation of tech companies will have the opposite — a media company embedded inside a software company.
Robinhood’s new media outlet definitely fits within that trend, and its executives certainly hope that Sherwood will lower user acquisition costs while strengthening the company’s brand within the finance community. Whether it stays committed to the project and continues to invest remains to be seen; remember, it’s only been about a month since a16z shut down Future, the outlet that was supposedly going to replace traditional tech journalism.
Stop Paying 5-10% of Your Revenue for Substandard Newsletter Software
You don’t need to sharecrop for Substack or pay 5% of your revenue for duct-tape-and-twig solutions that try to make WordPress into a newsletter-focused site.
Printing presses don’t take a percentage of newspaper or magazine subscriptions. Why should your website?
Outpost Publishers Cooperative can help you join the independent revolution.
Our members use Ghost — an open-source, modern CMS built for subscription-driven, newsletter-focused sites, and then supercharge it with Outpost’s power tools for Ghost that automate the business chores, like upselling readers, taking donations from multiple payment processors, institutional/gift subscriptions, and more.
You’ll get modern, open tools that make it simpler to run your site and the freedom to make it work how you want it to work.
You will save money, because neither Outpost or Ghost takes a percentage of your subscription revenue.
Already using Ghost? Outpost’s tools will help take your newsletter to the next level, and you can start today with a 21-day free trial.
Visit Outpost.pub to learn more.
How much traffic does Twitter actually send to publishers?
Digiday reports that Twitter traffic to publishers is down, possibly because of its removal of the Moments tool.
Twitter referral traffic to a dozen major publishers’ websites declined, on average, by 12% in December 2022 compared to November 2022, according to an analysis by Similarweb, a data analytics company that monitors web traffic. Some publishers — such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, the BBC and Yahoo — each saw referral traffic from Twitter fall between 10% and 18% month over month.
This could be a sign that the platform is losing relevance, but then again I’ve always thought the media underestimated Twitter’s role as a traffic driver. If you look at just the referral analytics alone, then sure, Twitter ranks far behind larger platforms like Facebook and Google, but it’s always had outsized influence in seeding content on those larger platforms.
A story that takes off on Facebook, for instance, often experiences early success on Twitter. For better or worse, it’s the place where all the journalists, policymakers, and industry leaders spend most of their time online, and I don’t think that dynamic has changed that much since Musk took over.
What do you think?
Let's talk to Sean Griffey, CEO of Industry Dive
When it comes to running a B2B Media company, few people are more knowledgeable than Sean Griffey. After co-founding Industry Dive in 2012, he helped grow it into 22 separate verticals. In 2022, it was acquired by Informa for a reported $525 million.
Sean has graciously agreed to join a live Zoom call with my audience and answer questions about everything related to running and growing a B2B media company. PLEASE NOTE: This won’t be one of those boring webinar interviews; this is an interactive session where everyone will have the opportunity to speak up, ask questions, and share their own expertise.
You can find the login details over here.
How much real journalism does the media actually produce?
The media has always been incredibly good at covering its own supposed demise, so it should surprise absolutely no one that it’s flooded the zone with think pieces about the threat of ChatGPT and the role it will play in replacing flesh and blood journalists with cheap AI copy.
I think Brian Morrissey did a good job of throwing cold water on this notion in a recent piece about the media’s “identity crisis,” and there was one particularly good line that stood out to me:
The role of a media company is changing because most of what is produced is unremarkable, lifeless filler that can be replicated by a machine fairly easily.
Yes! This is often the thought I have when people bemoan the decline of legacy newspapers. They often frame the pre-internet era as this golden age of journalism in which armies of reporters were engaged in months-long investigations into corporate and government malfeasance. In reality, that kind of journalism represented a tiny portion of a newspaper’s output.
I was a newspaper reporter prior to the 2009 recession — a time that’s generally understood to be the tail end of the print era. While I did report on government meetings and write the occasional investigative feature, many of my weekly duties didn’t really involve Capital J journalism. Here’s a sampling:
I compiled the weekly “church news” section, which basically just involved light copyediting of all the various announcements the local churches emailed into us.
I repackaged and formatted the press releases the local police department sent in about arrests they’d made (not particularly proud of that one).
I’d show up at school events, snap photographs of the students, and then write up short captions for the photos.
I’d drive over to car wrecks or fires, take photographs, and then write up short captions for the photos.
You get the gist. So much of media back then was just filler. That’s not to say that it didn’t have value — I’m sure readers got tremendous value from the church news section — but it also didn’t really require any journalism skills. A school teacher is just as capable of snapping a photo and uploading it to their class Instagram account as I was at taking school photos for my employer.
And that’s just as true today in the post-print media, with so many resources put toward rewriting AP copy, aggregating celebrity news, and repackaging company earnings reports. In Morrissey’s words, it’s “unremarkable, lifeless filler,” and I don’t think it should be romanticized just because it appears next to the real journalism that required actual skill to produce.
How The New York Times adapted to a post-Trump world
Adweek wrote about The New York Times’s efforts to grow its wellness-focused newsletter:
Within the first eight days of the new year, more than 110,000 Times subscribers signed up for the newsletter—nearly double the 65,000 sign-ups the Well desk generated with its 2022 Eat Well Challenge. The Well newsletter now has more than 1 million subscribers, though the publisher wouldn’t share the specific number.
It really underscores why The New York Times has continued to grow during the post-Trump era while many other outlets — especially The Washington Post — experienced steep churn: it invested in niches outside of politics and hard news.
Many of the Times’ fastest-growing verticals now are in areas like health, games, gadgets, and sports. It didn’t take its Trump-bump momentum for granted; instead, it reinvested in areas that are less dependent on who happens to be occupying the White House at any given time.
Why right wing tech platforms fail
The MAGAverse has been trying to build various alternative social networks — Parler, Gab, Truth Social — for years, but the results have been pretty mediocre. Rolling Stone took a deep look at Rumble — a right wing version of YouTube — and found that many of its biggest celebrities were struggling to gain traction:
Trump Jr. already has 1.07 million subscribers on Rumble, which puts him among the top tier of users — in theory. The reality is that despite this formidable audience, his videos often struggle to crack 10,000 views. One of his most-watched clips in the past couple months is a ripped and re-uploaded segment from comedian Dave Chappelle’s most recent Saturday Night Live monologue, with a golden “DON JR.” watermark and about 90 seconds of Trump’s own commentary added to the footage. Other videos, like one captioned “Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Now ‘Shark Week’ Is RACIST? – OMG,” are pulling meager engagement compared to Trump Jr.’s posts on Instagram and Twitter.
The reason that these MAGA platforms struggle is that they’re missing one crucial ingredient: liberals.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the GOP has shed nearly all policy positions and reoriented itself entirely around “triggering the libs,” and the reason that the Don Jr’s of the world receive so much engagement on platforms like Facebook and Twitter is that they regularly piss off a substantial portion of the platform’s audience. Browse through the quote-tweets of any Ted Cruz post, and often you’ll find that they’re mostly written by liberals who are responding to Cruz’s incendiary rhetoric.
But if you create a social media ecosystem designed specifically to alienate liberals, then it just becomes an echo chamber that only appeals to the most hardened partisans. It makes for boring content, and it’s likely why a right wing social platform will never truly become mainstream.
Sarah Peck explains why she didn't chase scale when building her Startup Parent podcast.
Help me brainstorm new media and Creator Economy trends to write about
In my state-of-the-newsletter article I published at the end of 2022, I wrote about my ambition to pursue more longform reporting in 2023. As such, I’ve been thinking a lot about trends within the Creator Economy and media that I could explore. Here are a few ideas I came up with:
Why content creators keep launching their own investing funds
Are webcomics succeeding on Substack?
What happens to finance influencers in a recession?
The state of the crypto influencer
Is local news poised for a comeback?
But I’m not going to pretend that I have my finger on the pulse of everything going on in digital media. There are all sorts of niches and platforms that I’m not paying close attention to. So I was hoping to enlist your help in identifying some big picture trends worth investigating. Are there any sectors of the media that deserve a deeper look? Sound off in the comments:
Do you like this newsletter?
Then you should subscribe here: