‘Content Shock’ Puts Top Publishers at an Advantage

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The titanic eruption of web-based content has reached overload, and a consequent drop in reader engagement. The good news? In this new world of content saturation and falling social shares, the big winners are publishers that have built a strong reputation for original, authoritative content.

In a world where 40,000 articles a week covering Bitcoin were published online in December 2017 alone, the coining of the phrase “content shock” should come as no surprise.

The Content Trends 2018 research report from Buzzsumo, released in March, is based on a review of 100 million articles published on the web in 2017.

The results are sure to send the digital marketing world into a tailspin:

  • Social sharing of content has halved since 2015.
  • The days of viral posts gaining hundreds of thousands of shares are waning as the majority of content now receives zero backlinks.
  • New topic areas are rapidly becoming saturated with content.

The winners in the world wide web of ‘content shock’

In his foreword to the report, Mark Schaefer, author of The Content Code, claims credit for naming this “content shock” back in 2014. He had once seemed a lone voice in the wilderness —until now.

While there’s a battleground ahead for digital marketers and companies that invest heavily in content marketing, there’s also positive news for quality publishers. They are the ones reaping the rewards of an increasingly saturated and competitive online environment.

“Not all sites have seen a fall in content engagement,” reads the report. “We have seen some major publishers increase both their total and average shares.”

Two such sites bucking the downward trend are the Harvard Business Review and The Economist, both of which have experienced an increase in content sharing.

In fact, seven of the top 10 most shared articles on Harvard Business Review over the last five years were published in 2017. The average number of shares has also increased from 4,007 in 2015/16 to 4,506 in 2017.

Similarly, the two most shared posts from The Economist over the last five years were both published in 2017. For comparison, the median number of shares for posts published by The Economist in 2015 and 2016 was 43. However, in 2017 such social shares increased to 78.

It appears that increased content competition has not adversely affected these sites. Paradoxically, it may have helped them reinforce their position in a world of content saturation.

“If you are going to share something with your audience you want to make sure it is well researched and authoritative from a trusted source, thus it is possible people are more selective with their sharing,” states the report.

Profiting from partisanship and LinkedIn shares

Another long-standing publisher sticking out from the crowd is The New York Times., According to the Buzzsumo report, rising engagement with its content may largely be due to political reporting coupled with the trend of rising shares for partisan political content generally since 2015.

After Facebook changed its News Feed algorithm in 2017, most online publications saw a massive drop in social shares. However, The New York Times again sidestepped some hardship by gaining shares on a different platform.

According to the report: “We have also seen major publishers like The New York Times increase their LinkedIn shares, albeit this is still a small proportion of their overall shares. LinkedIn may represent a better opportunity for business to business [B2B] sites. Many businesses were building their presence on Facebook but the recent algorithm changes could prompt a renewed focus on LinkedIn.”

LinkedIn recently told Digiday that comments, likes, and shares on the platform are up more than 60% year over year. The Buzzsumo data also shows that while social engagement with content is falling on Facebook and Twitter, many B2B publishers, including Forbes.com and BusinessInsider.com, are seeing increases in social sharing on LinkedIn.

The trend with backlinks is also positive for quality news publishers. Overall, the median number of backlinks in Buzzsumo’s sample of 100 million posts published in 2017 was zero. However, the report found that backlinks were gained consistently by authoritative sites. For instance, the report states that for sites such as the Pew Research Center, the median number of backlinks per article was higher in 2017 than in previous years.

Good news for the future of online news?

To borrow from the financial lexicon, it appears we are witnessing a market correction in response to an oversupply of lower-quality content and overused formats like clickbait that have peaked and declined.

Reassuringly for news publishers, however, there is clearly rising demand for high-quality, well-researched, and reputable content. For publishers with an established track record of authority in specific topics, they seem poised to gain the most from this climate of “content shock.” Fledgling and lower-quality publications will want to focus on delivering top-notch content rather than resorting to gimmicky publishing tactics that have long-frustrated audiences.

In the end, the Buzzsumo report’s bleak look at social engagement in 2017 offers a glimmer of hope for the future of news online. Quality, not quantity will be rewarded, likely leading to a more productive competitive model that ultimately gives news consumers a better and more valued final product.

Image sources: Buzzsumo

Key Strategies for Building Successful Audience Revenue and Engagement Programs: Report

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Digital media publications struggled in 2017. The Facebook-Google Duopoly continued to rake in the lion’s share of advertising dollars. The much-hyped “pivot to video” strategy flopped as ads proved difficult to sell. While several online news companies fell short of their revenue targets, former media darling Mashable was sold for a fifth of the $250 million valuation it received the previous year.

It’s time to revisit revenue approaches once again. To help The Tow Center for Digital Journalism recently released the report “Guide to Audience Revenue and Engagement,” after carrying out hundreds of interviews with people involved with news sites, including their creation, operation, and consumption.

The 105-page report reveals these findings along with strategies that focus on how media organizations and entrepreneurs can develop revenue programs based on strengthening interactions with audiences.

The report’s main findings:

  • Digital news publications depend on a combination of revenue strategies, not simply direct revenue from audiences. They include advertising, affiliate programs, syndicated articles, funding from foundations, corporate underwriting, books sales, and merchandise. In some cases, such approaches take the place entirely of direct audience revenue programs.
  • Subscription strategies work well for publications that offer highly differentiated reporting as well as those with institutional audiences for which employers will pay for the work-related content.
  • A significant hurdle to building a lasting membership program is discovering interactions that benefit both the publication and the members.
  • Members want to join programs to become part of a bigger cause or something unique that the publication represents. They aren’t interested in branded merchandise or local discounts.
  • To attract members, news organizations must publish compelling “who we are” stories that reflect its mission and give readers a sense of its importance in the community.
  • The degree of editorial engagement a publication has with its members can have a significant impact on a revenue program’s sustainability.
  • Treat your approach to turning people into members as a stage in a conversion funnel: research, expose and attract, engage and deepen, convert and sustain.
  • Face-to-face interactions, newsletters, digital product design, and your particular brand of journalism are critical factors in strengthening audience engagement. Use data to influence how you target those in your audience.
  • Culture change is hugely important in developing news organizations that are audience and membership driven. Strong leadership is necessary to ensure and sustain two-way engagement between the publication and the audience.

Read the full report here.

Decline of News-on-paper: United States

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Mapping the decline of news-on-paper

[Latest update: December 15, 2017]
The Newspaper Extinction Timeline, released in 2010, predicted that news-on-paper would become “insignificant” in the U.S. Read the Review of the Newspaper Extinction Timelinefor full context.

This page compiles some of the most recent available data on the state of news-on-paper in the U.S. Note that there are massive challenges to gaining an accurate current view of the state of news-on-paper.

  • The Newspaper Association of America (now renamed News Media Alliance) stopped providing detailed industry information in 2013.
  • Publicly listed news organizations have been largely very opaque in providing details on their print revenue and circulation.
  • Almost all so-called “newspaper circulation” figures available include both paper and digital formats. Most of the data below includes both paper and digital so does not provide real insight into the state of news-on-paper.

However the most important issue is NOT the decline of news-on-paper, but from the position we are in today how we can best create a positive future for the news industry over all channels.

More than a 1/3 of paid daily newspaper circulation has disappeared over 10 years

At the turn of the century, newspaper circulation in the United States rested at a relatively stable level of approximately 55 million copies a year. Nevertheless, ever since peaking in the late 1980s—hitting 62.82 million in 1987—the circulation of paid daily newspapers has consistently declined.

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: Editor & PublisherAlliance for Audited MediaPew Research Center  Chart source: statista

The pace of decline accelerated in 2004 (54.63 million), but not precipitously, resulting in a drop of more than 36% by 2016 (34.66 million). According to the last ten years of recorded data (2006-2016) supplied in the chart above, paid daily newspaper circulation sunk 34%.  

To take a closer look at the yearly circulation numbers, statista provides an interactive version of the chart above as well as multiple options for downloading the information.

2016 circulation for both Weekday and Sunday editions has plunged to the lowest figures since 1945

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]

Data sources: Editor & Publisher (through 2014); estimation based on Pew Research Centeranalysis of Alliance for Audited Media data (2015-2016). Chart source: Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center offers deeper insight into the decline of newspapers in the United States, providing separate circulation data for Weekday and Sunday daily newspapers. The center’s analysis shows that in 2016 both hit their lowest levels since 1945, with circulation figures of 35 million and 38 million respectively.

Advertising revenue dropped nearly two-thirds between 2005 and 2016, while circulation revenue rose slightly

[NOTE: Figures include both print and digital]


Data sources: News Media Alliance, formerly Newspaper Association of America, (through 2012); Pew Research Center analysis of year-end SEC filings of publicly traded newspaper companies (2013-2016). Chart source: Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center also analyzed advertising and circulation revenue for U.S. newspapers over a 60-year period starting in 1956. Although circulation earnings have gradually increased, total advertising revenue fell significantly between 2005 and 2016. During these 11 years, total advertising revenue for the industry plummeted by nearly two-thirds, decreasing from $49 billion to $18 billion. The bulk of advertising revenue still comes from print, compromising approximately 80% in 2011 and dropping to close to 70% in 2016.

We recommend the valuable Pew Reseach Center website on Journalism & Media, which is compiled from a variety of industry resources.

Print became the least popular news source in 2014, continuing to fall through 2017 down to 22% weekly consumption


Data and chart source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

From 2013 to 2017, the number of people who read print newspapers decreased by almost one-fifth. As the medium dropped out of favor, social media as a news source enjoyed a steady climb, with consumption growing by about 6% each year.

Each year since 2012, the Reuters Institute in partnership with the University of Oxford has released a digital news report offering insights into the transition to online news and its effect on the media landscape. Although the first report covered just five countries, the latest included survey data from 70,000 participants across 36 countries.

For people wanting to delve deeper and compare data between and within countries, we strongly recommend reading the latest report and using the interactive feature to create your own charts.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are uniquely positioned to monetize print but its role is rapidly declining

The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are distinct from other newspapers in the U.S. in that they are truly national and in fact arguably global “newspapers of record”. All three have made a concerted and successful shift to digital subscriptions and advertising. However, their role means that the role of print in their business models continues to be solid.

These uniquely successful news organizations recognize that they may not continue indefinitely on print. New York Times’ CEO Mark Thompson says in an interesting interview in Nieman Lab on when to stop the presses forever:

“The print product is a mature platform. It is, as you say, an economically important platform to us. It’s possible that platform will plateau. I think it’s more likely that the platform will eventually go away. It’ll go away because the economics will no longer make sense to us or our customers.”

Weekly community newspapers are severely challenged but are likely to have further life

There remain many newspapers across the US, primarily weekly, with small circulations but advertising revenues that are sometimes not eroding as fast as larger newspapers due to their highly geographically focused audiences and unique content.

Data source: Editor & Publisher, American Press Institute, Columbia Journalism Review

An excellent report from Columbia Journalism Review’s Tow Center on Small-market newspapers in the digital age provides strong insights into the state of the sector and some of the ways community newspapers are successful responding to change.

Since September 2005, employment in the U.S. newspaper industry has dropped by more than half

Note: Shaded areas represent recession, as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Data and chart source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

U.S. Newspaper employment:
January 1990: 455,000 (62% decline since this date)
January 2010: 260,800 (33% decline since this date)
September 2016: 173,700

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides the above chart in an interactive format. Users can explore the data further by hovering their cursors over the lines representing the different information industries or by clicking on the “Chart Data” tab to view it in a table format.

NOTE: “Newspaper employment” includes staff working on both print and digital editions, a fraction of these figures work

Should Google and Facebook Be Considered Media Companies?

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Facebook and Google are making conscious efforts to distinguish themselves as technology companies rather than media companies. This distinction is important to define considering their vast reach and power to shape the future news landscape.

Examining their roles becomes even more noteworthy as major news organizations around the world seek to curb the power of this duopoly. This is in part to preserve the integrity of traditional journalism and to loosen the platforms’ grip on the global ad market.

In the US, major news publishers are seeking collective bargaining rights against the Facebook-Google duopoly. The effort is spearheaded by the News Media Alliance, an organization whose members include The New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as numerous regional newspapers in the US.

Similar actions are being taken in Britain. The News Media Association, representing 1,100 British newspapers, wrote a letter to Parliament calling for the regulation of the two companies for their dominance over the ad market and the massive role they play in distributing information.

Why it’s important

In 2016 Google serviced over 9 billion searches and Facebook’s user base continues a steady upward climb, reaching up to 2 billion worldwide users.

The ubiquity of these platforms and their ability to spread information to users makes them highly influential sources for news. Even more, their global reach makes them attractive platforms for publishers to use as primary hosts for originally produced content.

In a recent paper published by peer-reviewed journal First Monday, authors Philip M. Napoli and Robyn Caplan counter Google and Facebook’s resistance to the “media company” label.

In their analysis, the characterization of these companies is integral to their role in disseminating information and shaping public opinion. It also could influence the regulatory and policy rules that govern them.

What is a ‘media company’

In simple terms, a media company can be defined as an entity that deals in the mass distribution of content. According to Napoli and Caplan, there are three main criteria essential to the function of a “media company,” although they are not mutually exclusive.

  1. The production of content; original material created by users or, in this case, news outlets.
  2. Distribution of content by moving it from producers to consumers.
  3. Exhibition, or the process of providing content directly to audiences.

The move toward digital news media, however, has disrupted the traditional relationship between publisher and consumer. In fact, the ease in which users or outlets can generate content and then distribute it via web-based platforms has significantly changed the media landscape.

Curation vs. creation of content

One of the central arguments tech companies use to differentiate themselves from media companies is that they do not generate content. Instead, they provide a platform for users to disseminate their own or third-party content.

For example, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, explained, “we don’t do our own content, we get you to someone else’s content faster.” Schmidt acknowledges Google’s role in the distribution and exhibition of content, both of which are key functions of a media company as discussed above.

At a 2016 Q & A session at Rome’s Luiss University, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg elaborated on this view regarding his social network platform:

“We are a tech company, not a media company. When you think about a media company, you know, people are producing content, people are editing content, and that’s not us. We’re a technology company. We build tools.”

Some of these tools include Facebook Live and Facebook Instant Articles which allows users, including news publishers, to directly host content on the platform.

In refuting this argument, Napoli and Caplan claim that the lack of creation/ownership of content does not exempt a company from its role in distributing and exhibiting media content. As an example, they point to the fact that cable and satellite companies are often under the same regulatory authority as the content producers they serve. This is true even if they are not involved in the content creation process.

Human vs. algorithmic editing

A less explicit argument from Facebook and Google is that their lack of human editorial processes separates them from traditional media companies that rely on human decision-making to choose content.

However, the “gatekeeping” duty usually assigned to human editors is still being carried out, albeit in a different matter. With more media companies trying to incorporate artificial intelligence into editorial and writing processes, the argument that relying on algorithms over human editors indicates the practices of a tech rather than media company begins to hold less weight.

Can a media company be run by computer scientists?

Another argument these companies use is that the makeup of their employees distinguishes them from media companies. For example, Eric Schmidt claims that Google is a technology company “because it is run by three computer scientists”.

In debunking this argument, Napoli and Caplan comparatively look at the symbiotic evolution of media and technology over time. They state,  “Technological advancements—and the associated technical expertise—have been fundamental to the media sector since at least the advent of the printing press.”

Therefore the view that the tech backgrounds of a company’s staff separates it from the media industry does not hold up based on precedent. Historically, media companies have a track record of embracing new technologies to minimize costs, increase distribution, and aid in content creation.

Duopoly pushing traditional media out of ad market

Finally, competition for ad revenue between online platforms and traditional media outlets implies that they operate within the same business sector.

According to a report by Axios, Google and Facebook are dominating the global market with about 50% of all global ad-spending going to the two companies.

In comparison with traditional media like print and radio, Google’s ad revenue alone matches that of all print media outlets globally and Facebook’s ad revenue out-earns all global ad revenue generated by radio.

Preserving high-quality journalism

Important players in the news industry are catching on to the potential negative effects of underestimating Facebook and Google’s dominance in the digital media ecosystem.

In 2016, both Facebook and Google came under harsh scrutiny for their alleged role in the spread of “fake news” during the US presidential election.  As the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg puts it, “The maneuvering is about more than the fight for digital territory. It’s about the endurance of quality journalism.”

Do Facebook and Google primarily deal in the curation of content? Yes. But with the increasingly important role these companies have in spreading news media stories, perhaps it is time for them to take responsibility for their role in affecting the quality of journalism in the future of digital news.

How Chatbots and News Messaging Apps Are Changing Editorial and Commercial Innovation

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In a 2015 blog post entitled “The Future of News is Not an Article,” Alexis Lloyd, the then creative director of the New York Times R&D Lab, envisaged a future that unlocked the potential of “Particles” instead of articles.

She pointed to Particles, “the potentially reusable pieces of information within an article,” as the way forward for news organizations to encode information in a more accessible, relevant, and long-lasting manner:

“The Particles approach…means that news organizations are not just creating the “first draft of history”, but are synthesizing the second draft at the same time, becoming a resource for knowledge and civic understanding in new and powerful ways.”

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Lloyd’s essential message was that organizations must transcend the limitations of the traditional news article—a relic of a relatively print-dominated era when storytelling had fewer platforms—in order to make the most of, and the most impact in, a digital media environment.

Based on this premise, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has recently published a report by media consultant Kevin Anderson entitled “Beyond the Article: Frontiers of Editorial and Commercial Innovation”. The report urges news organizations to think “beyond the article” in terms of “both the content they produce and the commercial revenue that supports their journalism.”

‘News as conversation’

Given the pressures surrounding existing business models for news, Anderson argues that editorial and commercial innovation must go hand in hand to propel journalism forward in a digital world. One of the key developments he sees at this intersection is the use of messaging apps and chatbots. These platforms are fuelling the shift to “news as conversation,” an approach that seeks to capitalize on mobile and messaging trends, build closer relationships with audiences, and generate new commercial opportunities.

The potential of a “news as conversation” approach has become increasingly apparent since usage of the big four messaging platforms—WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber, and Facebook Messenger—overtook the big four social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat—in monthly active users throughout 2015 and 2016.

“Beyond the Article” covers three interesting case studies that harness this trend: the Facebook chatbots of social news network Rappler, the apps driving youth engagement with newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, and the conversational interface and notification system of the Quartz news app. The key findings of these case studies are highlighted below.

1. Helping people see the whole picture: Improving content discovery and crowdsourcing through Rappler’s Facebook chatbots

Aims

Rappler, a growing Philippines-based social news network, sought to overcome the content limitations of Facebook’s algorithms and newsfeed in a way that would better communicate its distinctive editorial voice and priorities.

“People are really seeing a lopsided view of what we are serving our public, and that has an impact on the quality of discourse,” Rappler’s head of research and content strategy, Gemma Bagayaua Mendoza, said in an interview with Anderson. “In the Philippines as in the United States, the echo chambers are really out there, and they are affecting how people respond to situations in current events. We would like to be able to have direct access to people so they see the whole picture.”

Methods

Rappler dedicated two developers to work on a Facebook chatbot called RapRap. Launched in July 2016, the chatbot is a conversational application that allows users to ask basic questions or enter keywords to see related stories from the Rappler site.

Rappler has also built a chatbot that assists people to contribute to its crowdsourced #NotOnMyWatch anti-corruption project. #NotOnMyWatch uses real-time data to show where and how corruption happens, a game-changing approach in a country where very few families who pay bribes actually report corruption.

Benefits and challenges

The first round of chatbot development was relatively quick and “the effort was fairly low,” according to Rappler’s then-CTO Nam Le. Despite this, spreading awareness about how users can interact with the bots remains important as technical developments unfold. The bots are expected to gradually recognize and respond to a greater variety of user requests and submissions.

The RapRap chatbot has helped Rappler to capitalize on a surge in Facebook activity amid declining Twitter usage in the Philippines. As the bot facilitates user discovery of the breadth and depth of Rappler content, the organization anticipates more story views and more advertising revenue. The sales team is exploring ways to make this happen.

Meanwhile, the chatbot for #NotOnMyWatch has benefited from crowdfunding and private-sector grants. By providing a convenient online reporting process, the bot is helping mobilize individuals and communities to supplant Facebook rants with actual reports of corruption. “This is something that we hope to carry into the next years. If we can make it work, it will make fighting corruption far more transparent,” said Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa at the Philippines Social Good Summit in 2016.

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2. From a WhatsApp experiment to a custom-built app: Engaging youth audiences through chat at Helsingin Sanomat

Aims

Nyt (“Now”), the youth-oriented section of Finland’s largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, wanted to grow its reach among 15- to 26-year-olds. Initial efforts to engage this age bracket on social media had plateaued, with Instagram and Facebook strategies proving less successful than expected. Consequently, the Nyt team sought a new strategy to effectively engage with the target audience, especially its youngest members.

Methods

Realizing that WhatsApp is used by around 80% of youth in Finland, Nyt launched a WhatsApp newsletter in autumn 2014. It first sent subscribers a few top stories, a small number of headlines, and a joke. Although the team didn’t heavily market the newsletter and only expected a few hundred early adopters, within a week 3,000 users had joined. Shortly afterwards, Nyt had to cap the number of users at 5,000.

The limitations of the WhatsApp platform soon became apparent. Faced with what news editor Jussi Pullinen called “a manual labor hell” of managing multiple distribution lists and precariously navigating the platform’s terms of use, the Nyt team decided to work with an external firm to develop a custom-built app that could mirror the conversational format of WhatsApp.

Benefits and challenges

Nyt’s WhatsApp experiment offered a useful learning curve that informed the design of the app. The Nyt team had been surprised at the intensity of interaction from young WhatsApp users who asked questions, sent audio and video files, and gave direct feedback about what they wanted more of and what Nyt should change.

“People who were from the Helsinki region really liked getting tips on new restaurants or bars or info on events on the town via chat,” said Pullinen, rather than having to “go and look that info up”. Chat therefore proved to be a convenient, social and user-friendly way for Nyt to engage a youth audience. As Pullinen explained in a post on Medium:

“All in all, it felt very personal and very natural to be a media brand and to chat.”

But there was a significant stumbling block: WhatsApp users were not clicking through to the website. Consequently, rather than relying on website traffic, the Nyt app is designed to drive revenue through partnerships with local businesses who provide coupons, contests, and sponsored content. Building these partnerships requires more work than selling ad banners, but Nyt’s data indicates that its young readers tend to block or ignore ads, yet they are relatively open to reading quality sponsored content.

The Nyt app now has many times more users than those on the WhatsApp newsletter. However, maintaining user engagement has been harder. “Our core audience is on WhatsApp all the time. When you have a separate app, you have a threshold there,” Pullinen said in an interview for “Beyond the Article.” Despite this setback, the Nyt app continues to unlock valuable insights into the brand’s youth audience, including their preferences for a distinct editorial voice, a short digest format, and direct, genuine interaction.

3. Playful, creative and condensed: Newsbites, notifications and the Quartz brand experience

Aims

Given that consumer use of notifications tripled in many countries from 2013 to 2016, digital business news outlet Quartz wanted to enter people’s mobile notification streams. It sought to achieve this in a way that would align with its three guiding principles: “provide global business news, respect readers’ time, and go where the readers are.”

Methods

After weighing up several contrasting ideas, from a minimal mobile experience with extensive notifications to a mobile version of the full Quartz website, Quartz decided instead on an app with a conversational interface. In an article about the launch of the Quartz news app for iPhone, Zachary M. Seward explained:

“We put aside existing notions about news apps and imagined what our journalism would be if it lived natively on your iPhone. It wouldn’t be a facsimile of our website. It would be something entirely different, with original writing, new features, and a fresh interface.”

Launched in February 2016, the Quartz app presents users with newsbites, where they can click on an emoji-filled icon to receive a story summary in live-chat style messages, or they can skip to the next story. Users can also choose from four types of notifications: basic news updates, important and interesting news, “really, really big news,” and the “markets haiku”.

Benefits and challenges

Quartz’s chat-based app is strikingly relevant for time-pressed audiences and Millennials. The app’s instant responses mimic the familiar format of texting, generating a comfortable, amusing vibe similar to chatting with a friend. Although the app does not at first understand an individual user’s news preferences, the decisions that users make about article choice and notifications provide Quartz with a wealth of customer data points, fuelling feedback loops that may be used to build more efficient and personalized customer experiences.

Some people may find the app a bit limiting because it chooses which news stories to reveal, one at a time. But in the view of Adam Pasick, push news editor for Quartz, this is precisely the app’s crucial differentiator: “We’re providing a very slim, curated view of things that we find interesting,” he told Anderson. “This is really a small snack size as far as reading the news goes.” In contrast to the Quartz website’s array of in-depth feature articles, the Quartz news app thrives on its brevity, epitomized in the cryptic and popular daily Markets Haiku.

 

To help monetize the app, Quartz places visual ads within the app’s update stream. This may seem counter-intuitive given consumer trends towards ad-blocking and ad resistance. Nonetheless, for many users, the overall experience of the app is likely to be positive, convenient and even delightful. According to Quartz creative director Brian Dell, the goal is “to match our user’s context, and build the best brand experiences for that in a Quartzy way.”

Convergence in the business case for news as “particles” of conversation

In the three case studies above, the alignment of clear editorial goals with technology and business outcomes has paved the way for innovation in how people understand, experience and engage with news. By converting news into “particles” of conversation, Rappler, Helsingin Sanomat, and Quartz are making information resonate with their readers in direct and convenient ways that could revitalize brand-to-consumer relationships.

Nonetheless, there are many challenges involved in making chat-based news successful and sustainable. Harnessing the rise of bots and messaging is only one trend involved in creating the future of news—a future increasingly being shaped by the synthesis of editorial and commercial aspirations.

Image sources: Rappler.com, fightcorruption.ph, Helsingin Sanomat via Medium.com, Quartz via BrentManke.com, and Quartz via Mike Wickett

A Review of Successful Micropayment Platforms

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Micropayment platforms that allow people to buy individual news stories for 10, 20, or 50 cents are finally reaching the mainstream after about 20 years of development hell.

Blendle and Winnipeg Free Press offer two successful micropayment systems that might prove the model works.

Both are effective in terms of delivery, but more importantly, they’ve found the right markets and the right zeitgeist to turn a long-time vision into a profitable reality.

Blendle, a Dutch app often called “the iTunes of news,” has wooed more than half a million users since launching in 2014, making it the current benchmark.
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Users put money on their accounts and use it to buy stories from a variety of established publications for about 20 cents each. The idea is to “blend” articles to create a personalized newspaper or magazine.

Blendle looks like it’s here to stay and grow. The company has promised to enter the US. sometime in 2016, where it will apparently stock articles from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other established American newspapers.

Right place…

Blendle’s entry into the US will be a crunch moment for micropayments.

The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium, which make up Blendle’s main market, have a combined population of barely 100 million, but also boast four languages and far more localized news issues than the US.

Blendle originally offered articles from 56 European publications, which would barely register in America’s saturated media landscape, but immediately gave it a presence in Europe’s highly localized news market.

A focus on smaller markets is a key link between Blendle and Winnipeg Free Press, another micropayment success story.

The print edition of the Winnipeg Free Press has been published consistently since 1872 and continues to print six days a week. Its hometown, the capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba, has a population of about 700,000.

The publication launched a bespoke micropayment system in July 2015 and by December had exceeded its revenue and readership goals.

It’s notable that these two successful micropayment platforms both started with a manageable, localized market. It’s not the whole story, but it could be a lesson for developers who think they’ll immediately sweep through a saturated market like the US or the UK.

…right time

Another link between Blendle and Winnipeg Free Press is their relative youth. It’s not just about learning from previous mistakes, but riding the current wave of interest in micropayment platforms.

The concept of micropayments for news emerged in the 1990s, but when the impact of Internet publishing became clear, the hastily accepted wisdom was that paywall models were the future, not micropayments.

The cycle seems to have turned, with a number of publishers turning away from paywall models. News publishers are searching for a new commercial model and they might see it in the current wave of micropayment platforms.

Micropayments allow news consumers to “impulse buy” an individual story without signing up for a yearly subscription.

When printed newspapers dominated, consumers might have paid $2 for one day’s newspaper just because they were particularly interested in the news that day.

Subscriptions force consumers to pay more upfront. They also demand that consumers commit to a publication. Not many consumers can afford to juggle multiple subscriptions that might cost thousands of dollars in total.

Enthusiasm doesn’t mean success for micropayment platforms

In terms of delivery, one link between Blendle and Winnipeg Free Press is the offer of refunds for individual articles.

This feature is clearly a tool to reassure consumers who might be skeptical. (Winnipeg Free Press also allows users to choose a traditional subscription rather than micropayments.)

But it also appeals to consumers’ willingness to pay for news. It assumes that users won’t ask for a refund on everything and therefore pay nothing.

The success of micro-donation platforms such as Flattr and Tipsy shows that news consumers can be altruistic. One German news website reportedly made more than EUR6000 from Flattr in 2014.

Like Flattr and Tipsy, Blendle and the Winnipeg Free Press are the result of a belief that consumers will pay for news in the right circumstances. Unlike so many failed micropayment startups, however, they’ve tempered this optimism with commercial caution.

Blendle didn’t go live until it had 56 publications signed on. Winnipeg Free Press relied on a pre-existing consumer and production base, rather than building a platform as a third party and waiting for news producers to join in.

The key lessons here could be the importance of a manageable target market and an acknowledgment that consumers need convincing.

Micropayment platforms are a teasing prospect. The major lesson so far is they require groundwork, timing, and a pinch of luck—familiar ideas to any entrepreneur. It’s been a long road, but mainstream success could be right around the corner.

Image Sources: Modern Wall Street, Archives of the Winnipeg Free Press
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Are Newspapers Truly Facing Extinction?

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Are newspapers truly facing extinction? Dominique Delport, Global Managing Director of Havas Media Group, shares an optimistic perspective.

While the newspaper industry is being confronted by profound changes, he predicts a better future for five reasons: the rise of the global middle class; the transition to mobile-first and online platforms; new content and adjusted editorial purpose; data exploitation; and more innovation and agility.

Black and white dailies are not as profitable as they used to be. However, Delport envisions a bright path ahead for the industry, with publications embracing new trends and technology to reshape the old paper model. It is not that newspapers are dead, it is that media organizations are being reborn and must alter how they deliver the news.

To learn more about his fascinating insights, view his slide called “The Future of Newspapers.” Since it was published in June 2014, it has garnered more than 90,000 views and nearly 400 likes. After a year, his points are still relevant and the slide continues to receive comments.

It begins with futurist Ross Dawson’s Newspaper Extinction Timeline and ends with his NewsScape diagram, which shows where value can be created in a post-channel media world.

Image source: Dominique Delport