Discover more from Simon Owens's Media Newsletter
How audience interactions drive paid subscriptions
PLUS: The resiliency of live blogs
Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my media industry newsletter. If you've received it, then you either subscribed or someone forwarded it to you.
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Let’s jump into it…
How audience interaction drives paid subscriptions
Nieman Lab reported on a new study’s finding that regularly incorporating audience feedback into your reporting makes that audience more likely to convert into paid subscribers. Basically, the researchers worked with a number of publishers to introduce a process that allowed their audiences to submit questions for journalists to answer during the reporting process:
This intervention increased new subscriptions, with “an increase of 1.75 new subscriptions each day for intervention news sites compared with the control sites, all else equal.” That increase is significant relative to the daily average of 2.27 new subscriptions (though the authors noted that there was “considerable variation in subscription rates” so that number didn’t necessarily apply to individual sites). This finding suggested to the researchers that “by providing a service that answers questions posed by audience members, audiences are more likely to reciprocate through subscriptions.”
Do people really want to read AI-generated product recommendations?
When it comes to predictions about how AI will impact the media industry, there’s this widespread assumption the technology will eventually replace a lot of the SEO-optimized content that’s monetized with affiliate marketing. Most of this content, of course, consists of product recommendations and reviews.
Jon Steinberg, the CEO of publishing conglomerate Future, did a good job of throwing cold water on this prediction:
"I am confident that when people are researching a $500 graphics card, a $700 dress to wear for the spring on one of our fashion sites, like Marie Claire or Who What Wear, they’re going to want to read product guides and reviews and not just rely on a bunch of Google boxes."
I have to agree. I don't think people will trust an AI for product recommendations. They'll want to read a review from someone who has actually held the product in their hands.
I’m looking for more media entrepreneurs to feature on my newsletter and podcast
One of the things I really pride myself on is that I don’t just focus this newsletter on covering the handful of mainstream media companies that every other industry outlet features. Instead, I go the extra mile to find and interview media entrepreneurs who have been quietly killing it behind the scenes. In most cases, the operators I feature have completely bootstrapped their outlets.
In that vein, I’m looking for even more entrepreneurs to feature. Specifically, I’m looking for people succeeding in these areas:
Niche news sites
Video channels like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram Reels
Interested in speaking to me? You can find my contact info over here. (please don’t simply hit reply to this newsletter because that’ll go to a different email address. )
The resiliency of live blogs
Press Gazette assembled a panel of executives from several major publishers, and nearly all agreed that news consumers still love live blogs during breaking news events:
BBC News executive news editor Nathalie Malinarich said the live blog format “works better than ever” for the corporation, as the audience has come to expect them immediately after an event breaks. “We’ve worked quite hard to get the newsroom to feel that way.”
They are continuing to see a “big growth in audiences coming to our live pages,” she said, including among younger audiences.
I remember working at US News & World Report in 2012 and our traffic going bonkers as we live blogged the presidential debates.
Why publishers should invest in more non-news content
Nate Silver published a good piece arguing that publishers’ overwhelming focus on producing hard news content is making it difficult to for them to properly monetize their audiences:
What’s the most successful American newspaper brand right now? It is pretty clearly The New York Times … [Its] strategy is take a whole bunch of exceptionally popular beats that are a long way from muckraking journalism — style, real estate, Wordle, opinion columns and lifestyle stories that flatter their readers’ priors — and bundle them with important but money-losing beats like investigative reporting and foreign coverage. The Times audience is different than the typical one, so its most viral stories might be about Robin Roberts’s wedding and house-hunting in Sag Harbor rather than about Taylor Swift’s concert tour and Aaron Rodgers’s injury. Nonetheless, the strategy — the highly lucrative, highly successful strategy — is to provide plenty of coverage that entertains and delights Times readers, most of which is produced to a very high level of quality, but which isn’t what you’d traditionally think of as “all the news fit to print”.
The fanfic-to-traditional-publishing pipeline
Fanfic used to not attract much respect as a literary genre, especially since many within the book industry considered it illegal. But now it's serving as a gateway into traditional publishing:
Once considered a frivolous endeavor undertaken by sex-obsessed amateurs, fan fiction is now fully in fashion, enabling romance writers — and their publishers — to celebrate (and capitalize on) their [fanfic] roots. In July, Julie Soto, who writes Harry Potter fan fiction envisioning a relationship between Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy, published her debut novel, Forget Me Not. The upcoming titles My Roommate Is a Vampire, You, Again, and The Hurricane Wars, as well as multiple 2022 releases, have their origins in Reylo fanfic; so prevalent is that pairing that it’s become a meme in romance fan spaces to imagine Adam Driver walking into a bookstore and seeing himself on the covers of dozens of titles.
Do you sell a product targeted toward marketers, media executives, or professional creators?
What a coincidence! That’s exactly who reads my newsletter. You can find out how to reach them over here.
Substack’s growing role as podcast host
Substack is mostly known as a newsletter platform, but creators are increasingly using it for podcast distribution, both free and paid:
Substack has been rolling out tools for podcasts for about two years, said Dan Stone, executive manager of writer acquisition and development at Substack. New tools released earlier this year allow people to post episodes with a flexible paywall, which gives a preview of the episode before asking the listener to subscribe to access the full episode. An AI-powered transcription tool for Substack podcasts launched in beta in August.
Thousands of podcasts are now being hosted on Substack, increasing at a rate of approximately 70% year over year
Why major book publishers don’t understand their customers
One of the most surprising news items to emerge out of the Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster anti-trust trial was the claim from top publishing executives that they essentially didn’t know how to sell books. “Everything is random in publishing,” testified Penguin Random House chief executive officer Markus Dohle. “Success is random. Best sellers are random. So that is why we are the Random House!”
I was reminded of that testimony while reading this great piece from publishing veteran Kathleen Schmidt on what actually drives book sales:
If you ask someone in a publishing house's sales department about what customers they service, they’d tell you about distributors, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, indie bookstores, and big box retailers (Target, Walmart, etc.). This is problematic because publishers cater to their accounts more than they think about expanding their consumer base. Attending a sales conference in the industry means you’ll hear feedback about what accounts want rather than what consumers want.
Codie Sanchez finds interesting ways to make money and then reverse engineers them for her audience.
Your weekend cocktail: The Pearoporto
As I mentioned last week, we launched a new shortform video series that shares cocktails we’ve either invented or remastered.
This week’s cocktail: The Pearoporto