Discover more from Simon Owens's Media Newsletter
The creator “middle class” does exist
PLUS: How Cameo lost its way
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The creator “middle class” does exist
The Washington Post published an overview of the current state of the Creator Economy, and I think it does a particularly good job of highlighting that the industry consists of a lot more than just on-screen influencers:
Marques Brownlee, a 29-year-old tech reviewer whose videos have nearly 4 billion views on YouTube, employs producers, video editors, a researcher, a creative director and a cinematographer out of an office in New Jersey, according to the company’s LinkedIn profile. (The studio has its own YouTube account, as well as a level in the game “Fortnite.”)
Professional creators now often recruit and hire teams of specialists: managers, writers, editors, designers and camera operators to pump out content; agents, accountants, event coordinators and publicists to lock down appearances and revenue.
Some of the jobs are newly tailored to the industry, such as the YouTube channel managers who set up publishing calendars and boost subscriber counts. The designers of the clickable images for YouTube videos, known as thumbnail artists, often promote themselves as helping unlock virality: Jonathan Sippel, a former freelance photographer, tells clients his thumbnails are made to feel “photographic, yet simplified in a whimsical way.”
You often hear the claim that there's no creator "middle class," but I don't think that's true. There are tens of thousands of creators who have built sustainable businesses, it's just that the exact size of the industry is hard to measure. You'll often see stats like "only 2% of creators generate a livable wage," but that's not really a meaningful metric when it takes zero effort to launch a YouTube channel, podcast, or newsletter.
The anatomy of a Financial Times newsletter launch
The head of newsletters at the Financial Times published a breakdown of how her team launched a business of fashion newsletter that generated an open rate north of 70%:
When launching a newsletter, it is critical to do as much customer research as possible, both pre and post-launch. The FT has a robust comments section, so [FT’s fashion editor, Lauren Indvik] already had an idea of what readers wanted from our style coverage (as she says: “it's less ‘these are the new bags to buy’ than ‘how do I make the most of my current wardrobe?’ or ‘why is fashion company x doing well, and why is fashion company y struggling?’”). But she adds that, “Nothing beats meeting up for a coffee or a video chat! Call-outs for email feedback on the newsletter usually get a couple of replies, but when I’ve asked for help finding interview candidates for a story, and readers have volunteered themselves, I’ve been able to learn so much about what interests them and how fashion intersects with their lives.”
The former ThinkProgress editor has over 150,000 signups and at least 7,500 paying subscribers to his newsletter.
Another media company caught sneaking in AI content
WashPo reports that a bunch of low-quality articles started popping up on a Gannett-owned product review site, and many of the company’s own employees believe the articles were written by AI:
The reviews were so vague about the products they were purportedly reviewing that [staff writer Jaime Carrillo] and his colleagues started to suspect they had been produced by artificial intelligence.
Worse, some of the authors didn’t appear to exist.
Not only were Reviewed staffers unfamiliar with the bylines on the stories — names like “Breanna Miller” and “Avery Williamson” — they were unable to find evidence of writers by those names on LinkedIn or any professional websites.
Media companies keep getting caught trying to sneak in AI-generated content, and in almost every single instance the content has been flagged as being of extremely low quality. Sure, AI can generate a decent high school term paper, but it's still nowhere near the skill level of a professional writer.
Call-to-cancel subscription models are hurting the entire publishing industry
You know those publishers that make you jump through hoops to cancel your subscriptions? They're hurting the entire media ecosystem by making consumers less likely to subscribe to new outlets:
A study of 1,007 U.S. consumers who have subscribed to digital publications found that 67% would more readily purchase new subscriptions if they thought those subscriptions could be canceled easily. Seventy-seven percent of consumers also said they would support a law mandating “one-click cancelation” mechanisms.
Do you sell a product targeted toward marketers, media executives, or professional creators?
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The Messenger is running an outdated playbook
The Messenger — the buzzy media startup that raised $50 million in VC funding and aimed to quickly amass 100 million monthly visitors — is already flashing early warning signs that it’s headed for a Quibi-like implosion:
What's especially spectacular about The Messenger's trajectory is how fast it has appeared to burn out. In about six months of operations, it's already passed almost every stage that a media startup experiences on its path from VC darling to barren husk. It had the grand pronouncements, the worrying resignations, backstage rumors that the site's editor-in-chief was AWOL, talk of “Mad Dog” alienating female staffers, and an absurd partnership with an AI company, all between Easter and Halloween. When I first read that Times piece with a skeptical eye, I set a reminder for myself: "check the messenger's hiring stats," scheduled for March 19, 2024. Given where The Messenger is now, just surviving that long would be an accomplishment.
The Messenger launched with a 2014-era playbook that was centered around pure audience scale. That playbook failed for dozens of VC darlings in the past, including HuffPost, BuzzFeed, and Vice, so it's not clear why The Messenger's founders thought their experience would be any different.
How Cameo lost its way
This is a great deep dive into the rise and fall of Cameo. It started out as a truly innovative company, but then it raised way too much VC money and began making a lot of dumb investments in crypto and other money-losing ventures:
Cameo kept throwing spaghetti at the wall. Perhaps inevitably, it got in on crypto, with Cameo Pass, a new product that sold crypto-backed art known as nonfungible tokens alongside access to V.I.P. parties.
The crypto push seemed to reflect the personal enthusiasms of the company’s founder as much as it did any business imperatives. Around that time, Mr. Galanis showed off an NFT he’d purchased on his own. It was a cartoon picture of a monkey wearing 3-D glasses called a Bored Ape that cost him $320,000. Represent made him a pair of flip-flops bearing the image.
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