The market for daily news digests is getting saturated

It's getting really difficult to reproduce the success of Morning Brew or theSkimm.

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The market for daily news digests is getting saturated

Digiday reports that The Washington Post is launching a daily text and audio product called The 7:

Each briefing will be available as an emailed version and in text and audio formats accessible via The Post’s homepage and across properties. App users can also choose to receive a mobile push notification when The 7 drops. People can choose to listen to or read the briefing, thanks to The Post’s integration with text-to-speech technology from its corporate half-sibling Amazon (the latter’s founder and executive chair Jeff Bezos owns The Post).

The 7 is joining a huge and growing list of news digests delivered in newsletter and/or podcast form. Almost all of these digests are produced daily, include very little in the way of original reporting, and are sent out at almost the exact same time every morning or evening. They’re usually put together by just one or two people who often write in a very conversational voice. I’ve profiled several of these digests in this very newsletter. Here’s a short selection from just this year alone:

  1. How daily podcast The Smart 7 hit 5 million downloads in its first year

  2. How WhereByUs scaled its local newsletters to multiple cities

  3. Daily Detroit is proving there’s a market for local podcasts

  4. How 6AM City is scaling crowdsourced local journalism

  5. How Finimize grew to over 1 million email subscribers

I asked the founders of these outlets what inspired them to launch a daily news digest. Most of the newsletter writers pointed to theSkimm, The Hustle, or Morning Brew. For podcasters, it was the New York Times’s massively successful The Daily.

It’s easy to see why this kind of product is so alluring for both publishers and news consumers.

On the audience side, the daily digest counters the pervasive feeling of information overload. Instead of constantly feeling guilty that you’re falling behind on the news, you can simply scan an email each morning or download a podcast for your commute, and after you’re done consuming it you can rest assured that you at least have a topline grasp of the important issues

Publishers like daily digests for several reasons. Because they contain very little original reporting and are often compiled by a single person, they’re cheap to produce. Their daily cadence makes it easier to scale up an audience quickly and provides a pretty expansive inventory for native advertising. Also, the decentralized distribution afforded through newsletters and podcasts allows you to have a more direct relationship with your audience.

But the space is getting extremely saturated, and I think it’s going to get increasingly difficult for new entrants to achieve a return on their investments.

Remember, these digest produce very little in the way of original content or breaking news, so it’s very difficult for them to offer differentiated content that induces organic sharing. Because of that dynamic, they rely heavily on marketing gimmicks like recommendation swaps, loyalty programs, and paid promotion. As the market gets more crowded, those marketing channels will simultaneously become more expensive while also generating diminished returns.

I also have to wonder how many daily news digests a single person will consume in a day. The entire point of the digest, after all, is to save the consumer time and deliver a neatly packaged product that fulfills their information needs; do we really think they’ll seek out multiple products that are simply repackaging the same handful of daily news stories?

I think outlets like WashPo have a distinct advantage when launching their own daily digests, in that even though The 7 won’t be publishing any of its own original reporting, it’s associated with a much larger brand and website that regularly does. This is probably the same reason that theSkimm and Morning Brew have started publishing original interviews with industry leaders and newsmakers; as it turns out, “growth hacking” will only take you so far and original reporting still reigns supreme.

My latest: How Subtext enables creators to send text messages to their fans

The platform charges a creator's audience a monthly subscription fee and allows for back-and-forth discussion.

Is serialized fiction making a comeback?

There are a few signs that serial fiction may be experiencing a small renaissance. I wrote about them over here.

Quick hits

Substack is dropping $30 million to lure comic book writers away from companies like DC and Marvel. It's acting more and more like a traditional publisher. How long until we get the first blockbuster film based on a Substack-published comic? [Hollywood Reporter] Also, one of Substack’s co-founders pushed back on that $30 million figure. [Twitter]

Substack is trying to make it easier for writers who operate separate newsletters to collaborate with each other. [Substack]

A fun Q&A with The Information's creator economy reporter. [Very Fine Day]

Planet Money host Jacob Goldstein joins Pushkin Industries. [Podnews] This won't get a fraction of the coverage of the Spotify/Rogan deal, but Goldstein is a top tier podcast talent. Malcolm Gladwell is becoming a real media mogul through his founding of Pushkin Industries.

"Just about every reporter who writes behind a paywall has, at one point or another, begrudged the meter responsible for throttling their writing's reach." [Medialyte]

A cool story about a rising star in the eSports journalism world. He basically forced his way into the industry as a teenager. [Digiday]

Yet another media outlet outsources its comments section to social media. I still can't help but think this is a bad move in the longterm. [Digiday]

One year in, and Defector has 40k paid subscribers and generates $3.2 million in revenue. I hope other laid off journalists copy its playbook and launch their own writer cooperatives. [Defector]

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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 simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.