It's not the new blogosphere

Future News 28

We’re quickly seeing journalists be decoupled from publishers. In some instances, they have no choice in the matter since the pandemic has either sped up the structural decline of print or hammered ad revenues at their outlets, forcing management to cut editorial staffers and freelancers. In other instances, writers have chosen to go it alone, breaking from the comfort of a regular pay-day and turning to the likes of newsletter platform Substack to monetize their readership. 

The Andreessen Horowitz (the VC led a $15.3m Series A funding round for the company last year) backed network offers writers – mainly journalists, bloggers and analysts – no upfront fees, but does take a 10% cut of subscription revenue. Substack’s CEO Chris Best (@CJBest) was recently interviewed by Recode’s Peter Kafka (@PKafka) on the model. 

He failed, however, to disclose how much revenue was being generated and how many fee-paying subscribers there are. An article on the Horowitz website, which seems slightly outdated, cites more than 50,000 paying subscribers. The same posting by Andrew Chen (@AndrewChen) also claims that Substack “can solve the structural issues between publishers/writers and readers in a way that aligns the incentives between all of them”. 

To some extent I’m onboard with Chen’s thesis: readers can now have a direct financial and editorial relationship with their favourite writers, the most recent being conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan (@SullyDish) who quit New York Magazine for Substack. But unlike the blogosphere that Sullivan helped create, there doesn’t yet seem to be a community where writers would post and share other people’s work.

This bottom-up system created its own stars, who would eventually be swallowed up by major news outlets. Also on the discovery front at Subsctack, you can search for “writers or publications” and its frontpage features some authors, but I am yet to be recommended – by the company or anyone else on the network – another newsletter. 

That is probably why there are currently no ‘Substack stars’ since many high-profile journalists have simply lifted their followings from other platforms and outlets onto the network. Granted, the network only launched in 2017, but it’s reasonable to question what organic subscriber growth looks like and the company is yet to divulge that information. 

Best, meanwhile, revealed that his team were looking into how to provide legal advice for Substack writers (journalists can often face libel suits, of course). But that begs another question: for its 10% revenue share, will the platform eventually offer other business services beyond distribution, hosting and payment processing, such as digital marketing? That would really make a full stack.

📈 Earnings 

  • Daily Mail General Trust issued a fairly glum Trading Update this week. Almost all of the company’s events in 2020 have been cancelled, while scheduling for FY 2021 has been affected. Consumer media dropped 30% in Q3 and 28% in June. MailOnline revevenues, meanwhile, were up, but only by 3%. The business’ outlook remains uncertain. 

  • Twitter Q2 earnings showed the social media platform saw its average monetizable DAU (mDAU) grow 34% year-over-year to 186 million, while revenues were down 18% year-over-year to $683m. The company noted a “modest recovery” in advertising in the last three weeks of March. The report was issued after the business suffered a very public hack, when the accounts of Elon Musk, Bill Gates and other A-listers started promoting a bitcoin scam.

💼 Jobs and biz

  • Meredith Levin (@meredith_levien) will succeed former BBC Director General Mark Thompson as New York Times President and CEO on 8 September (just under two months before the US general election). Thompson will be leaving on a high, with the Gray Lady in good help thanks to its more than six million subscribers that has helped it weather the Covid-19 storm with visible recurring revenues. “...we have achieved everything I set out to do..,” Thompson said. Mr Market agrees, with an almost record share price of $45 for the Gray Lady. 

  • Politico UK has unveiled a hiring spree, snapping up Seb Whale (@SebWhale), Matt Honeycombe-Foster (@matt_hfoster) and Graham Lanktree (g_lanktree), who will be focusing on Britain’s trade efforts. Whale and Honeycombe-Foster both come from Dods Group publications, The House Magazine and Politics Home, respectively. More hires are expected, which makes you wonder – will Axios ever plot a European expansion?

  • Hearst Magazines has a new interim head, current CFO and director of global operations Debi Chirichella.

  • Q Magazine is ceasing to be, effectively marking the end of the UK’s once highly influential music press. The Telegraph’s Ben Lawrence has written an obituary of the sector. 

  • Louis Theroux (@LouisTheroux) will be looking back at his past docos in a new series. Meta. 

  • The best way to describe the UK government’s new approach to media relations? Punchy. Boris Johnson’s administration is now looking for a rebuttal expert for the Department for International Trade. 

  • MailChimp’s annual review is packed full of interesting stats and trippy infographics

  • Happy 25th birthday to Prospect magazine. 

  • BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis (@Maitlis) is now a Tatler cover star.

🔬 Research

🎧 Podcasts

  • The New York Times is acquiring Serial Productions, the company behind the extremely popular Serial series. The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin (@BenMullin) is claiming that the deal could be worth up to $50m, but there’s no official word from the two parties on the matter.

  • Iain Martin’s (@IainMartin1) Reaction has launched a new pod, The New World, exploring the possible post-Covid-19 future. 

🤖 Technology 

  • Big Tech, namely the CEOs of Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google, will face a grilling from the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee next Wednesday, Axios is reporting

  • The US is reportedly urging the UK to drop its Digital Services Tax as part of the nations’ ongoing post-Brexit trade talks. 

  • Alphabet’s Project Loon, which uses balloons to provide internet to rural and remote areas, has become operational in Kenya

  • How the BBC is approaching machine learning

📧 Contact

For high-praise, tips or gripes, please contact the editor at iansilvera@gmail.com or via @ianjsilvera.