Discover more from Simon Owens's Media Newsletter
The New York Times finally understands the value of a personal brand
PLUS: AI-generated content is already harming publishers’ Google traffic.
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.
If you fit into the latter camp and want to subscribe, then you can click on this handy little button:
If you’re already signed up and want to support the work I do here, the subscription link below will give you 10% off for your first year:
Let’s jump into it…
Finding the right balance between free and paid content
A paid newsletter experimented with placing extra content in its free edition, and it increased its conversion rate considerably:
Essentially, it’s the same newsletter as the paid edition, minus a couple of paywalled elements. The average issue of [my newsletter] runs about 2,000 words, and more than half of them are now free.
While you might think this would discourage paid subscriptions, conversion rates immediately went up after making the change.
More evidence that Twitter referral traffic is tanking
Publishers are already starting to see higher engagement on Threads than they do on Twitter:
In the first week after Threads launched and HGTV joined the platform, HGTV had 270,000 followers, representing about 5% of its Instagram audience, [Rashidah Bashir, director of editorial and audience development at Warner Bros] said. Her team clocked 36-times the engagement rate per follower on Threads compared to X in the same period, even with fewer posts shared on Threads. And despite the sharp drop-off in user activity on Threads since its July launch, Bashir said HGTV is still adding new followers, with a total of 370,000 followers at present.
As a test, HGTV posted four similar pieces of content on X and Threads and saw five-times higher total engagement on Threads compared to X, Bashir said.
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. )
A new advertising marketplace for newsletters
Beehiiv is launching an advertising marketplace to make it easier to connect brands with newsletters on its platform:
We have a full team dedicated to onboarding premium brands and connecting them to the top newsletters on beehiiv.
When we identify your newsletter as a good fit for one of our campaigns, you’ll receive an email notification to review the ad opportunity …
… When running ads via the beehiiv Ad Network, you don’t need to worry about any tracking, reporting, or invoicing.
Rather—a member of our team will be in touch to share performance data about the campaign, collect your preferred payment method, and coordinate a payment within 30 days of running the ad.
This is the kind of adtech that some writers had hoped Substack would build.
NPR’s “nudge” strategy
Nieman Lab explains how NPR is getting more aggressive at hitting its online audience with pop-up messages to drive donations. This is a strategy that was leveraged — with much success — by The Guardian:
The new pop-up is part of a broader initiative, launched in 2022 as NPR Network, to turn its national audience into donors. (NPR has estimated less than 1% of its 20 million weekly digital users give to their local stations.) The new strategy required changing the organization’s bylaws to allow NPR — not just local member stations — to seek individual contributions directly.
If you want to build a membership without placing content behind a paywall, then you have to find ways to constantly hit your audience with "guilt" messaging.
Retail media has gotten huge
It's not just Amazon — several online retailers have built massive advertising businesses:
[Instacart] generated $2,551 million in revenue in 2022, including $740 million in advertising. And as Ali Miller, Vice President of Product, told me earlier this year, Instacart thrives in part because is provides market intelligence and data infrastructure for its many retail parters, which number in the thousands.
Instacart’s numbers are terrific, that is, until you compare them to Walmart’s. Per analyst Brian Wieser, the big box giant is headed toward becoming a $4 billion ad company.
As if publishers didn't have enough of an uphill battle fending off Google and Facebook.
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.
The New York Times finally understands the value of a personal brand
The New York Times is nudging its reporters to write what it calls “enhanced” bios that will appear on their author pages
The mandate has since expanded to multiple desks, I’m told. The idea behind the “enhanced bios,” as they are being called, is to put more of a face and a name to reporters, so as to foster greater trust with readers and, as more news elsewhere is written by generative AI, emphasize the paper’s human-led reporting.
In the past, The New York Times has been uncomfortable with its reporters growing their own personal brands — that’s why it banned them from launching personal newsletters without written permission — but now it's recognizing that a personal brand is a form of currency in a world of AI-generated content slop.
AI-generated content is already harming publishers’ Google traffic
Over the last year we’ve seen a lot of speculation over whether AI chatbots would lead to a decline in publisher traffic, especially traffic coming from search engines.
The optimists have argued that news consumers would seek out authentic content created by real human beings, whereas the pessimists assume that generative AI will quickly crowd out the human-created stuff, especially now that Google has placed an AI generator at the very top of its search results.
Well, the pessimists are probably feeling pretty vindicated right now:
One travel blogger said she watched 80% of her traffic disappear in the space of 48 hours, with posts "very obviously AI written" now outranking her. Other site owners posting on SEO forums claimed AI-generated content had also started populating above theirs.
Some people have seen huge tumbles in their search rankings. "Yesterday we saw 55% drop from normal traffic, today it's even worse," Overholt, who runs several travel-related websites, told Insider. She watched pages that previously ranked first for certain terms tumble to fifth, sixth, or seventh place in Google search results.
How the rise of election models impacted political campaigns
Nate Silver wrote about how the popularity of the FiveThirtyEight election model placed the spotlight on him in ways that didn't make him comfortable:
The FiveThirtyEight election model was subject to a certain, weird problem: it was way too popular. No seriously. It was too popular, and it tended to swallow everything else in its wake. The election forecasts we ran at FiveThirtyEight were seen by very large numbers of people — tens of millions of people. In fact, the 2016 forecast was literally the most engaging piece of content on the English-speaking Internet, according to Chartbeat.
When a product reaches that scale, you lose control of the narrative about it. As much as I might have been literally screaming at people to take Trump’s chances seriously in 2016, for instance, far more people saw the numbers than read my careful contextualizations about them.
I don’t think the story is quite so simple as “people don’t understand probability” or “people round 70 percent up to 100” (there’s actually not much empirical evidence for the latter claim1). It’s more just that people interpret these forecasts in a lot of different ways, and those interpretations are mediated by a lot of partisanship and election-related stress. For every one reader who was interested in forecasting as an intellectual exercise — or who at least appreciated the effort to make horse-race coverage more rigorous — there were probably 10 who just wanted reassurance that their guy was going to win.
Jer Staes monetizes his podcast through a mixture of local business advertising and paid memberships.
Want a daily dose of media industry news?
I only send this newsletter out twice a week, but I curate industry news on a daily basis. Follow me on one of these social platforms if you want your daily fix: