The 3 stages of media unbundling

Eventually, traditional media companies will recognize the Great Unbundling as a legitimate threat to their businesses.

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The Rebooting: The unbundling of publishing

From the article:

To create new value, publishing needs to unbundle and then rebundle in much more rational ways. The destruction of the cable bundle was a necessary and messy step. We’ve seen the start of the unbundling of publishing with Substack. The defection of many well-known writers heralds the needed collapse of the op-ed pages. But the people who dismiss Substack and newsletters as just hot takes sound a lot to me like the people in the early 2000s who dismissed bloggers as dudes in their parents’ basement with pizza stains on their t-shirts and a desperate need for vitamin D. How things start are not how they end.

I agree. We're only at the beginning stages of the unbundling of media. In fact, I would separate media unbundling into three distinct stages:

Unbundling 1.0: This is the phase we’re currently in — what I would call the Substack Era. Star journalists and columnists are quitting their mainstream media jobs and leveraging their huge Twitter followings to drive paid subscriptions to their own standalone platforms. They’re no longer content to subsidize the work of their less-experienced colleagues.

Unbundling 2.0: The universe of writers who have enough clout to amass 1,000 paying subscribers in a short period of time is extremely small. Because of this, we’ll start to see more and more writers pool their resources and form flotillas that will minimize risk. In some cases, this will come in the form of writer collectives like Defector, Every, and the Discourse Blog. But we’ll also see other interesting forms of experimentation, like the Sidechannel Discord server. Eventually, new startups aimed at facilitating these collaborations will launch. Several months ago I interviewed the founder of a company called Lede, which helped both Defector and the Discourse Blog build their publishing platforms.

Unbundling 3.0: Eventually, traditional media companies will recognize the Great Unbundling as a legitimate threat to their businesses. They’ll grow tired of building and nurturing talent, only for that talent to defect once it’s reached maximum value. So mainstream media outlets will begin to restructure their relationships with creators in order to incentivize them to stay. Forbes, for instance, is rolling out a newsletter program in which it pays advances to star writers and then shares subscription revenue with them. A former Vanity Fair editor is raising money to launch an outlet that employs a similar model.

How two YouTubers turned their hunting vlog into a thriving business

Tag N’ Brag distributes its content to over 100,000 followers across YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. It’s also convinced dozens of hunting apparel companies to sign year-long, exclusive contracts to have their products featured in its videos.

In a recent interview, one of its cofounders walked me through how he and his brother built this business.

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Bloomberg: How TikTok Chooses Which Songs Go Viral

From the article:

TikTok assigned individual managers to thousands of stars to help with everything, whether tech support or college tuition, inspiring a sense of loyalty among creators.

Business Insider: A new startup is helping Clubhouse influencers make money from brand deals on the $4 billion audio app

From the article:

The earliest users of Clubmarket's marketplace include some of the founders of the biggest clubs on Clubhouse, which range in topics from entrepreneurship to mental health to pet care. Brands can work directly with clubs and their owners … Creators can apply to become part of Clubmarket's platform through its website. The digital-marketplace software is not fully developed, so Clubmarket's team is coordinating sponsorships themselves over emails and calls.

There are more and more marketplaces opening up that make it easier for brands and creators to link up.

Digiday: How a wave of independent authors is spawning more media co-ops

From the article:

At Defector, which has 37,000 subscribers, every staffer has the same base salary, as well as a separate, role-specific target salary that depends on the company bringing in a set amount of money.

Dirt: The economics of illegal streaming

This is a fascinating look at the world of pirating websites and how they monetize.

Business Insider: A new media startup will spend millions making movies with YouTubers, TikTok stars, and other digital creators

From the article:

A new film and streaming upstart called Creator Plus (styled "Creator+") has raised $12 million to produce long-form movies starring influencers.

The startup, cofounded by Next 10 Ventures' Benjamin Grubbs and investor Jonathan Shambroom, says it will produce six feature films this year. The movies will air on a new streaming platform the company created starting in 2022. To watch a film, users pay per view rather than paying a monthly subscription fee for access. The company said the price for a film rental will be roughly the cost of a movie ticket, and that creators get a cut of any sales generated. It plans to spend low seven-figure budgets on each project.

This'll be an interesting startup to watch. I always thought Quibi should have invested much more in influencers. It could have paid a fraction of the cost and still probably would have converted many more subscribers.

Adweek: To Ratchet Up Retention, the Financial Times Restructures Its Consumer Revenue Team

From the article:

To track the engagement of its readers, the Financial Times calculates a metric through the recency of visits, frequency of visits and volume of articles read (RFV). If this number drops below a certain cohort-based threshold, the publication might deploy tactics designed to stimulate engagement …

… Subscribers with low RFV scores whose renewal period is impending might receive an email from the Financial Times, presenting them with statistics about their site engagement. The email might show them how many articles they’ve read, on which topics, written by which authors and for how long. The point, said Spooner, is to demonstrate the value of their subscription.

The most successful subscription publishers are building out really sophisticated retention strategies.

Matt on Audio: Apple's New Subscription Podcast Features

This is a good rundown of all of Apple’s newly announced podcast subscription features.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say this is a major step forward in the evolution of podcasting. It’s the first example of a major podcast player allowing for every creator to launch a paid subscription offering within the app itself.

Prior to this, podcasters needed to use third party platforms like Patreon and Supporting Cast. This created a sub par user experience, since paying subscribers need to figure out how to get a customized RSS feed imported into their podcast player of choice. Not only that, but this customized feed operates separately from the main feed of the show — meaning that the paid episodes don’t appear next to the free episodes. Even worse, these customized RSS feeds don’t work on streaming platforms like Spotify and Pandora.

Apple Podcast subscriptions will create a seamless experience within the app itself, allowing paid and free episodes to appear within the same space. What’s more, Apple already has millions of credit cards on file, so subscribing is only a single thumbprint away.

This is a great example of Apple zigging where Spotify zagged. The latter spent hundreds of millions of dollars to lock down stars like Joe Rogan and the Obamas. Rather than relying on big headliner exclusives, Apple is essentially launching thousands of them, big and small. Podcasters will collectively broadcast to their millions of listeners that, in order to access their premium content, they need to use the Apple Podcast app.

Of course, not all podcasters will be enticed into trying out this new tool. There are a few downsides, namely:

Cost: Apple is taking a 30% cut of every transaction for the first year and 15% after that. Platforms like Patreon and Substack take 5-10%.

Lack of control: The relationship between customer and podcaster is completely facilitated by the Apple ecosystem, meaning the podcasters don’t have access to even basic information, including subscriber email addresses.

iOS exclusivity: This is the biggest sticking point for me and the reason I’ll probably never test out Apple Podcast subscriptions: the app isn’t available on Android. More than half of the world’s smartphones run on Android, and I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would willingly exclude them from accessing my content.

Of course, Spotify is working on its own creator subscription tool, and it has the added benefit of being available on both iOS and Android. What’s more, Spotify is also building out its own programmatic ad network that it plans to open up to all podcasters.

What’s that mean for Apple? If it wants to maintain any real momentum in podcast subscriptions, it needs to launch an Android version of its app.

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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.