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Weekly Briefing: Friday, November 17
Happy Friday! And welcome to Business Side’s Weekly Briefing.
In today’s edition:
Developments at Business Insider and Buzzfeed
Audience trends on spoken word audio and social media & news
Benchmarks from Time, The Guardian US, and Workweek
Viewpoints from operators at Defector, Newsquest, and The Guardian
News from across the media industry
Let’s get to it.
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Back to Business Insider. Henry Blodget is stepping down as CEO as the company changes its name back to Business Insider. The new CEO will be Barbara Peng, who was previously Insider President.
Founded as a niche publication serving “Silicon Alley” in New York, the company is headed back towards its niche roots, with a plan to focus on subscribers rather than social traffic.
The company already has a nice subscription foundation. It had 350,000 subscribers as of a couple years ago, and its premium offering includes utility-oriented tools such as pitch decks, org charts, a salary database, and a headhunter database.
I’d expect to see continued alignment between editorial coverage areas and the company’s Intelligence research unit. Already, they overlap in topic verticals such as finance, tech, advertising, and retail.
Buzzfeed’s reorg. Buzzfeed is reorganizing its employees & sales team around individual brands, moving away from centralized teams that work across their network of sites, including HuffPost and Complex. The change will make it easier for Buzzfeed to sell Complex Media, an effort well underway.
There seems to be limited revenue synergy from having a network of sites, unless your scale is truly massive or your audiences are very closely aligned. Many brands currently in portfolios could likely do better stretching their legs as standalone brands.
I was intrigued when Saveur's editorial director bought the company from Recurrent Ventures so she could run the culinary & travel brand independently. I suspect there are many similar opportunities for brands stuck within struggling portfolios.
Social media and news (Pew):
The percentage of US adults who regularly get news on each social platform:
The percentage of TikTok users who regularly get news on the platform:
Spoken word audio (Edison and NPR):
Percentage of the U.S. population listening to spoken work audio every day:
Spoken word’s share of time spent listening (vs. music):
Podcasts’ share of spoken word time spent listening:
Location of listening (2023):
State of the ad market. While Q3 earnings showed that big tech is recovering, many publishers are still struggling – with the NYT as one exception. Here’s a chart that tells the story:
Time also has a positive advertising story, as it expects direct sold advertising to grow by 7% this year, driven in part by selling around franchises such as TIME100, Person of the Year, and Women of the Year.
And event revenue will grow 70% YoY, with “over 23” events this year, up from 10 in 2022. (Time)
The Arena Group:
Q3 digital advertising grew 29% YoY, a result of a 46% increase in revenue-per-pageview and a 8% drop in traffic. (I’d be curious to learn more about tactics behind the revenue-per-pageview increase.)
The Guardian US:
The company expects to earn $33 million in reader revenue this fiscal year (which ends March 31), and this month it expects to hit 250k monthly recurring supporters.
Headcount has grown by 35% to 159 over the past year.
Overall U.S. revenue is expected to grow 11%. (Axios)
Annual revenue was $4.5 million, up from $3.8 million last year. Subscriptions accounted for 83% of revenue.
Operating expenses were $4.4 million. This figure includes roughly $750k of employee compensation distributed based on the company’s financial performance, suggesting the company is in a strong position.
The company has just over 40k active subscribers. Subscription churn rates were 13% for annual subscribers, and 4% per month for monthly subscribers.
Defector’s Normal Gossip podcast is getting between 450-600k downloads per episode, and it has over 4,000 paying subscribers. (Defector)
Revenue will 3x this year.
Revenue in October of 2023 was $1.2 million – 40% from audience payments.
Their LTV:CAC ratio is 11x, with a payback period that’s less than two months. (X)
Literally Media, the company behind eBaum's World and Know Your Meme:
Has 50 staffers and is profitable.
Revenue in the low 8-figures – 70% from on-site advertising, 13% from video advertising, and 17% from commerce & events. (Adweek)
Almost 20,000 media jobs have been cut so far this year, six times more than last year.
America has roughly 6,000 newspapers, down from nearly 9,000 in 2005.
Google pays Apple 36% of search ad revenue generated via Safari.
A new study argues that Google should pay 17.5% of its search revenue to publishers.
Guardian U.S. managing director Steve Sachs on the extensibility of The Guardian’s reader contributions model:
“You really need to be through and through mission-driven as an organization… And if [audiences] think it's not exactly that, then they're less likely to support you… And so I think that it would be hard for for-profit media organizations to make this work.”
Guardian creative director Chris Clarke on the launch of their new print magazine, the Long Read.
“We know that for many people, myself included, when it comes to long, immersive pieces, reading in print – without the distraction of your phone, or emails and notifications pinging in – is still the most satisfying reading experience, and one that should be cherished in a climate so saturated by disturbance.”
Newsquest CEO Henry Faure on running publications across localities:
“Even though we’re a large company, we’ve always tried to hold true to the fact that we’re a local community media business. And even though the temptation is great to centralise, and you should centralise at the middle and back office because you need those efficiencies, if you start pulling local salespeople out of markets and putting too many editorial folk into large hubs, I think you can lose your attraction.”
Defector shared the results of exploring why their churn increased in late Q1 and Q2.
“If only because misery loves company, we spoke with peers at other subscription-forward media companies who were also seeing elevated churn. Their hypotheses included: consumers are cutting back on discretionary spending given perceptions of high inflation and uncertain economic conditions; people are unwilling to pay as much for news in non-election years; general subscription fatigue is finally settling in; and new click-to-cancel standards are broadly reminding people to cancel unused subscriptions.”
Defector also shared an interesting & effective tactic for winning back subscribers:
“As part of the winback campaign, we ran a small experiment where we sent some segments the offer email “From” the specific byline that they had previously read the most frequently, and sent some segments the offer email from a generic Defector email account. We discovered that ex-subscribers who saw a specific blogger’s name in their email inbox converted at twice the rate of those receiving the offer email from the generic Defector Media name.”
Recurrent Ventures implemented another round of layoffs, impacting brands including Popular Science, The Drive, and Domino.
Staff unionized at Malcolm Gladwell’s Pushkin Industries.
The Knight Foundation named Maribel Perez Wadsworth as its next CEO. She was previously president of Gannett Media.
Workweek let go five staffers, and it has parted ways with six creators this year.
The former EIC of the Recount was arrested for child pornography.
Reporters without Borders published a “Paris Charter” on AI & journalism, in collaboration with a number of partner organizations.
The Telegraph issued a policy prohibiting use of generative AI in editorial work.
Google is paying local outlets to test AI-powered tools.
YouTube will require creators to disclose when they’re using AI-generated images that appear realistic.
Meta is allowing political ads that question the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
The Block, the crypto media company, sold a majority stake to VC firm Foresight Ventures in a deal valuing the company at $70 million.
The Daily Mail is no longer considering using Qatari funds to acquire The Telegraph.
Model Karlie Kloss is buying i-D magazine, which had been a part of Vice.
Two journalists launched the Sick Times, a donor-supported site covering Long Covid.
Courier Newsroom, the network of liberal local outlets, is expanding ahead of the 2024 election.
UK sites presenting themselves as local news outlets are publishing primarily paid-for press releases.
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