I’m not blogging much these days, but to the right you’ll find some Twitter thoughts and rants. →
Fortune media hound Mathew Ingram noted in May 2015, when Facebook’s Instant Articles format launched, that Big Blue saw it as “as a mutual exchange of goods, driven by the company’s desire to help publishers make their articles look as good as possible and reach more readers.” He went on to say:
But whenever you have an entity with the size and power of Facebook, even the simplest of arrangements becomes fraught with peril, and this is no exception. Why? Because a single player holds all of the cards in this particular game.
Around that time, Gawker’s Nick Denton, since brought low by a multimillion-dollar lawsuit loss you may have seen coverage about, went so far as to call the Facebook-publisher relationship not a distribution partnership but “abject surrender”:
So many media organizations are just playing to Facebook. They’re just catering to the preferences…expressed in some algorithm that nobody understands. It’s almost like we’re leaving offerings for some unpredictable machine god that may or may not bless us.
Almost a year after its launch, and a year’s worth of tweaks to the Instant Articles product, we have a more complete picture of the pros and cons.
Massive distribution open to many publishers
Following its closed launch with a limited amount of “partners,” including the New York Times and National Geographic, Facebook has opened the program to publishers big and small, in the U.S. and around the world, “giving every news organization the capability to publish their content on the social network,” according to Poynter.
WordPress plug-ins make it easier
After a rocky launch that required programmers to reformat every article especially for Facebook, the company was able to scale it to most new organizations through a WordPress plugin the company created, “essentially greasing the skids for mass adoption of the program among news organizations.” Per Poynter:
The plugin is being built in partnership with Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.com, and helps translate news stories to Facebook’s Instant Articles format. This removes a significant hurdle for news organizations.
New potential revenue streams
It’s no secret that magazines are continuing to fold and even digital-native sites can’t make the numbers work. We’ve also seen the rise of ad blockers and native/sponsored/branded content. Are content partnerships like these the answer, or at least an answer?
Only certain companies are seeing real benefits
BuzzFeed and Vox, to name two, are on board with the new format. Vox even hired media heavy hitter Choire Sicha to oversee its distributed partnerships (Facebook, Snapchat, Apple News and others, presumably). Per the WSJ, “Vox Media has long counted its own content platform as a key to its success. But now it says the future lies in platforms run by others, so it’s bringing in a digital media stalwart to help strengthen those ties.”
But others have yet to make hay from Facebook’s sunshine. As Fortune notes:
The media industry is in a “get big or go home” phase.
BuzzFeed and Vox are big, so they can play in Facebook’s Instant Articles world better than the smaller guys can.
It’s difficult (and costly) to track the audience
As AdAge reports, publishers have to pay more to track their audiences on distributed platforms. Yes, they get bigger distribution (theoretically, anyway), but ComScore apparently charges “$15,000, per platform, per year, to add tracking capabilities.” And six months post-launch, Apple News still doesn’t even have ComScore integration. This puts publishers in a tough position: In order to help their bottom lines, they want to reach the audience wherever the audience is, but doing so costs money they don’t have.
It’s not clear that publishers make money
Following on the point above, in the distributed content ad model, if you don’t know how much audience you have, you also don’t know how much revenue you stand to make. At this point, publishers are still crossing their fingers that this translates to revenue.
Jobs continue to be cut but not added back
Publishers are “re-allocating resources to build teams that produce content for specific social platforms,” per AdAge, but they’re cutting far, far more than they’re adding. Journalism is going through the kind of massive…transition, disruption, sea change, slaughter, whatever you want to call it, that is epic in scale. There are too many outlets that have closed up shop or gone through major layoffs to name. It’s especially chilling when digital-only publications like Mashable, IBT and Slant (just in the past couple of weeks) can’t even make the numbers work.
Distributed content alone isn’t going to save publishers. Maybe a combination of distribution, ads that escape blockers, native/sponsored content and cutting more staff will help. Also? Prayer. Honestly, prayer seems to be publishers’ main strategy at the moment: Please, Facebook and Google, don’t change your algorithms. Please, Snapchat and Apple News. Please, BuzzFeed and Vice. Please, someone figure this out for us. God bless us, every one.
Yahoo is having an awful month. First it was sued by a former employee, then it had an awful earnings report, and now it has closed down nine content areas: tech, food, health, parenting, makers, travel, autos, beauty and real estate.
“Global editor in chief” Martha Nelson (I put her title in quotes because it’s so hilariously made-up sounding), who used to run Time Inc. editorial, said:
As we make these changes, we acknowledge the talent and dedication of an extraordinary group of journalists who brought new and newsworthy content to Yahoo.
If that’s not a eulogy, I don’t know what is. It’s too bad: More journos, mostly in the New York office, out of work. They join employees from Rodale, Time Inc., Bloomberg and any number of publishers who can’t make the numbers work.
Meanwhile, this week in London, the BBC cut 1,000-plus jobs, and the Independent closed down its print edition, which will result in layoffs. At least in the U.K. they seem to have a humane acknowledgment that people will be losing jobs. Unlike in the States, where CEOs release statements riddled with meaningless corporate jargon like “right-sizing,” the director general of the BBC, Tony Hall, said:
I recognise this is a very tough message. I’m under no illusion that what I’ve said today will cause great anxiety across many parts of the organisation. This is a lot of change and it will happen quite fast. But I want all of you to know that we’ll handle this decently and fairly.
It’s a sad time for those who used to and still do practice the noble profession of journalism—or at least those who do so at legacy shops. My next post will be about how BuzzFeed, Vox, Facebook and Snapchat are adapting much better than publishing’s old guard.
Amazon is opening brick and mortar stores! “What a world, what a world!” to quote the melting Wicked Witch of the West.
It seems that after spending its first 20 years putting local bookstores out of business, the company has realized: Hey, gosh, people really like local bookstores.
I should mention that Amazon.com put out of business not just thousands of local bookstores but also countless outposts of chain bookstores. Mall standbys like Borders, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, B. Dalton, and Waldenbooks are for the most part but a memory.
Perhaps Amazon can lease spaces formerly occupied by some of these businesses. After all, “Their goal is to open, as I understand, 300 to 400 bookstores,” said the CEO of a shopping mall who has apparently been in contact with Amazon.
Maybe Amazon can somehow make a go of brick-and-mortar stores. Maybe it knows something the defunct bookstores did not. Maybe it has enough time and money that it can afford to experiment. Maybe it has a long enough runway that it will figure it out. Maybe it has some secret algorithms that can help. Maybe Jeff Bezos himself will be stocking shelves in the back. Who knows?
But I think we can all agree that it’s spectacularly odd that the company that’s probably responsible for people even coining the term “bricks-and-mortar” is pursuing this strategy. What a world.
Boy, Yahoo this week, huh? First the company gets sued for instituting a quarterly performance review system that an ex-employee says has “been used to fire hundreds of employees since [CEO Marissa] Mayer joined the company,” per The New York Times. The accuser, Gregory Anderson, who worked at Yahoo News, says execs there “routinely manipulated the rating system to fire hundreds of people without just cause.”
Two things stood out to me in the article. First, this nugget, which every time I read it brings a wide smile to my face:
Ms. Mayer has steadfastly refused to use the word “layoff” to describe the thousands of jobs eliminated since she joined the company. She even forbade her managers from uttering what she called “the L-word,” instructing them to use the term “remix” instead.
Imagine! “We’re sorry to announce that everyone in this room is being remixed.” What?
The second standout bit is this:
The court filing said that managers were forced to give poor rankings to a certain percentage of their team, regardless of actual performance. Ratings given by front-line managers were arbitrarily changed by higher-level executives who often had no direct knowledge of the employee’s work. And employees were never told their exact rating and had no effective avenue of appeal.
Uh, that sucks. My advice to Yahoo would be: Careful what you wish for when you hire journalists. They’re gonna do what they do. And you will be called out.
Despite its left turn into eye-roll territory with this dude also claiming so-called reverse gender discrimination, it’s a hell of an interesting turn of events.
Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter notes that “Yahoo’s fourth-quarter earnings were overshadowed by the company’s announcement that it would cut staff as it explores a sale.” (If you’re keeping track, that’s more staff than it’s already cut illegally. Allegedly.)
In fact, continues THR:
Yahoo has outlined an aggressive cost-cutting strategy that includes reducing its headcount by 15 percent and closing offices in Dubai, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Milan and Madrid. Those cuts are expected to reduce Yahoo operating expenses by $400 million by the end of the year.
Jeez! That’s a ton of staff, 15 percent! We know from reports that this includes shuttering many of its “digital magazines,” and the company already shut down Yahoo Screen. That’s a lot of creative people out of work, which is really sad.
It seems that one bright note was for Yahoo was the growth of its new “Mavens” program, which somehow stands for mobile, video, native and social. Wow, mobile and native are growth areas? No kidding. Welcome to 2012, Yahoo!
I guess these kinds of good-idea-but-way-too-late decisions are why the board wants to sell, per Kara Swisher at Re/code, despite Mayer wanting to keep the company and keep trying to grow it:
Strategic alternatives is code for: Come on down, Verizon! Hey there, AT&T! All private equity guys welcome here!
I’m sure Mayer, like all of us, is wondering where it all went wrong with this venerable brand. (And also: WEHT Tumblr, man? No one ever talks about Tumblr anymore. So much for David Karp being the next media guru.)
I wish had an better answer than, “We’re living through a historic shift in the media and no one knows what will happen,” but I don’t. Meantime, media people: Gird your loins, prep your bunkers, and find a partner who’s a dentist or a pharmacist.