Mar 182017
How are magazines and newspapers surviving in a digital world?

Could schools help combat the scourge of ‘fake news’? The OECD’s education director, Andreas Schleicher, believes so.

Schleicher runs the organisation’s PISA international comparison of educational standards that will introduce tests in 2018 on global competency alongside the existing measures of literacy and numeracy.

The questions of what fake news is and who it affects are relevant to the discussion of dealing with propaganda, slanted reporting and the internet’s echo chambers.

I’ll be discussing this shortly on BBC5’s Up All Night. It should be an interesting discussion.

Jan 302017
the web is new neon sign

With media companies around the world struggling to make money, the publishing platforms on Facebook and Google promised to bring in much needed income streams. They appear not to have worked.

Business Insider reports how US based premium publisher trade body Digital Content Next surveyed its members on their online platform income and discovered some disappointing answers.

On average, premium publishing companies generated $773,567 in the first half of 2016 by distributing their content on YouTube. Content published to Facebook earned an average of $560,144 in the period, Twitter generated an average of $482,788, and Snapchat generated $192,819 for each publisher in the sample.

To call these returns derisory is an understatement and it illustrates how the current media model is unsustainable as it’s impossible to sustain a basic newsroom, let alone produce investigative features with those sort of budgets.

It isn’t just the media model that’s unsustainable, Business Insider cites the CEO of Digital Content Next, Jason Klint, who flagged in a blog post last year that all the growth in digital advertising is being accounted for by Facebook and Google – the rest of the industry is shrinking.


Even Facebook and Google aren’t immune from the unsustainable model that’s currently in place, Klint points out that fraud and intermediaries further skew the model which undermines advertisers’ confidence in the platforms and online media in general.

For the moment though, the intermediaries seem to be doing okay. Klint cites IAB research which claims AdTech companies are making 55% of the online advertising industry’s revenues while publishers are only getting half.

That illustrates how the tail is currently wagging the dog with publishers and content creators losing out while middlemen who add little in the way of value get the bulk of the revenue. That too is not sustainable.

We’re still in early days for online media and the models are still being worked out. While we wait for the 21st Century’s David Sarnoff many sectors are threatened including the advertising, marketing and PR industries. At least the publishers aren’t alone.

Jan 052017
the web is new neon sign

How do you make money from online publishing? Medium’s Ev Williams shows he is as far away from the answer as the rest of us.

In a blog post yesterday Ev announced his company is firing fifty staff as online advertising revenues fall short.

Online advertising’s disappointing revenues are no surprise to pretty well anyone observing the online publishing industry for the past five years, it seems to have come as a revelation to Ev and the investors who’ve staked an estimated $140 million in the venture.

That money, which most online publishers would gag for, seems to have gone on a bloated headcount given the company can afford to fire fifty people. It’s a shame the company’s investors didn’t appoint a board that checked management’s hiring practices.

Something that should worry other publishers is the organisation’s Promoted Stories division is being shut down as part of the restructure. This underscores how branded content doesn’t scale the same way traditional advertising does and won’t represent a major revenue stream for online publications.

It isn’t the first time Ev Williams has got it wrong, in founding Twitter he and his team turned their back on ordinary users and developers to focus on courting celebrities in the hope big brands would pay large amounts to be associated with them. It didn’t work.

Contrasting Ev’s Twitter and Medium experiences with that of Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti is interesting. While Buzzfeed still hasn’t found the formula for profitability, Peretti and his team have gained a deep understanding of what works in online publishing.

To be fair to Ev, we’re all trying to figure out the revenue model that will work for online media, his travails with Twitter and Medium show just how hard it is to find a way for publishers to make money from the web. What is clear though is burning a lot of cash on sales staff is not the answer.

Aug 112016

Consumer goods giant Proctor and Gamble has announced they will be dialling back their targeted advertising on Facebook, as they discovered being too precise turns out to stifle sales.

It turns out that big companies need scale, not precision, so to grow sales they need to be engaging with more people and not restricting their message to niche groups.

Given the different natures of businesses it’s not surprising to see strategies that work for one group fail dismally for others, but it’s interesting how targeting turns out not to work so well for mass market products.

The losers though in the P&G story are smaller websites as Wall Street Journal quotes the company’s Chief Marketing Officer as saying they will focus more on the big sites and move away from niche players.

Mr. Pritchard said P&G won’t cut back on Facebook spending and will employ targeted ads where it makes sense, such as pitching diapers to expectant mothers. He said P&G has ramped up spending both on digital sites and traditional platforms. One category the company is scaling back: smaller websites that lack the reach of sites such as Facebook, Google and YouTube.


Again we’re seeing the early promise of the web failing as economic power continues to be concentrated with a few major platforms. This is also terrible news for media organisations as big advertisers – P&G are the world’s biggest spender – focus on a few sites and increasingly ignore local or niche news publications.

There’s also the quandary of where the content that Facebook’s users share will come from, with the advertising shifting away from media companies – new players such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post as well as the old established mastheads – to Google and Facebook, there’s less funds to create interesting and shareable stories.

P&G’s move is very good for Facebook’s and Google’s shareholder but the future media models still seem a long way off.

Jun 302016

Two years ago Buzzfeed’s head of global operations visited Sydney and laid out the company’s vision of being the New York Times.

As Scott Lamb explained, an important part of the Buzzfeed model was generating traffic through social media shares — at that time a tactic which Iwas working well.

Since then the gloss has gone off Buzzfeed as the company misses financial targets and traffic plateaus.

Now Facebook has announced further changes to its newsfeed which sees more emphasis on users’ family and friends’ posts than news and brands.

Sites like Buzzfeed are left in a bind as one of their key sources for traffic dries up and, once again, Facebook’s cahnges show how risky it is for publishers and marketers to rely on individual online platforms.

In truth all of the major online services are predators with Facebook, along with Google and Amazon, being at the top of the food chain, just like tigers.

For those riding the internet tigers, the risk of being mauled is real. As Buzzfeed and others are finding.

Jun 232016

It seems the Arab Spring has come to the US Congress where Democrat representatives protesting the house’s refusal to vote on gun control legislation have occupied the house.

House speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, ordered the chamber’s TV cameras to be shut off but the occupying members responded by streaming their own media feeds through Facebook and Periscope.

Once again we’re seeing how new media channels are opening up with the internet. While they aren’t perfect, they do challenge the existing power structures and allow the old rules to be subverted.

Jun 022016

As usual Mary Meeker’s internet trends report lays out the current state of the online world.

Two things that stand out in the mass of statistics are how the smartphone market is now commoditised and that the advertising funded media model is redundant on mobile with adblockers proliferating in China, India and Indonesia – the world’s three biggest emerging markets.

While Mary Meeker flags those changes, she also continues to point out how broadcasting still gets a disproportionate spend of advertising revenue, something she’s been flagging for five years.

For advertisers sticking with the media they know is understandable but it does open some opportunities for a great disruptions.

The design of Meeker’s slides leave some people unimpressed though.