The New Republic Is For Sale—Turns Out Media Is Hard
The New Republic is up for sale. Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, who bought the century-old “in-flight magazine of Air Force One” in 2012, has apparently found out that running a media business takes more than enthusiasm and deep pockets. “After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic,” he wrote in a letter to the staff posted on Medium today. When Hughes purchased the magazine in 2012, he promised to “aggressively adapt to the newest information technologies without sacrificing our commitment to serious journalism” while also supporting the money-hemorrhaging magazine financially. In 2014, however, Hughes’ commitment came under fire after his efforts to remake the business led to the resignations of two top editors, leading to a mass exodus of editorial staffers and contributors. At the time, CEO Guy Vidra said TNR was transitioning from a century-old magazine to a “vertically integrated digital media company.” The magazine’s print publication schedule was cut from 20 issues a year to 10, and its headquarters was relocated from Washington, D.C., to New York City. For Hughes, transitioning TNR into a digital powerhouse proved to be a greater challenge than he expected. “I will be the first to admit that when I took on this challenge nearly four years ago, I underestimated the difficulty of transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company in today’s quickly evolving climate,” Hughes wrote today. “The unanswered question for The New Republic remains: can it find a sustainable business model that will power its journalism in the decades to come?” Nuzzel’s mobile discovery feature. Nuzzel Nuzzel’s mobile search function. Nuzzel Nuzzel’s mobile Add Favorite function. Nuzzel Nuzzel’s new site. Nuzzel Nuzzel’s mobile discovery feature. Nuzzel Nuzzel’s mobile search function. Nuzzel Nuzzel’s mobile Add Favorite function. Nuzzel Nuzzel’s new site. Nuzzel Social news service Nuzzel has a captive audience. Tech journalists and venture capitalists are big fans. But that’s a small crowd. Nuzzel works by suggesting stories to users based on how many times they’ve been shared by those they follow on Twitter. For example, if you follow a bunch of venture capitalists, you may find a story about Jack Dorsey or Square today in your Nuzzel feed. The model makes a lot of sense—if you use Twitter. The problem is that a lot of people don’t use Twitter. So to solve this problem, Nuzzel is launching a new version of its service today that it has dubbed Nuzzel for Everyone. Twitter users can still sign up and get a customized feed, but non-Twitter users now have a way to use Nuzzel, too. Anyone can download Nuzzel or open the website to find feeds built off of what people are talking about on Twitter. But now you yourself don’t have to use Twitter to see them. “If you’re a regular person, one of the other billion-plus people online, if you can even find one celebrity or community feed on Nuzzel that’s somehow relevant to you, I think that would be a massive shift for a lot of people,” says Nuzzel founder Jonathan Abrams, who previously founded early social networking site Friendster. Users can now subscribe to Nuzzel-created feeds that follow relevant Twitter users—anything from a feed about libraries made up of librarians and archivists on Twitter to football to LGBTQ politics. You can also follow the Nuzzels of other users built off their own Twitter feeds, like Marc Andreessen or Steve Martin. For Nuzzel, this shift marks a significant attempt at expansion after landing a new round of $1.7 million in funding from investors like Salesforce CEO Marc Beinoff. But, as with any app, even if you build it, people won’t necessarily come. Nuzzel’s competition ranges from Facebook and Twitter itself to news-specific apps like Apple News and Flipboard. But Abrams believes Nuzzel’s simplicity sets it apart. The news is right there waiting for you; you don’t have to go through the labor of curating your own feeds. “I don’t think regular people are ever going to do that,” he says.
The New Republic is up for sale. Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, who bought the century-old “in-flight magazine of Air Force One” in 2012, has apparently found out that running a media business takes more than enthusiasm and deep pockets.
“After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic,” he wrote in a letter to the staff posted on Medium today.
When Hughes purchased the magazine in 2012, he promised to “aggressively adapt to the newest information technologies without sacrificing our commitment to serious journalism” while also supporting the money-hemorrhaging magazine financially.
In 2014, however, Hughes’ commitment came under fire after his efforts to remake the business led to the resignations of two top editors, leading to a mass exodus of editorial staffers and contributors. At the time, CEO Guy Vidra said TNR was transitioning from a century-old magazine to a “vertically integrated digital media company.” The magazine’s print publication schedule was cut from 20 issues a year to 10, and its headquarters was relocated from Washington, D.C., to New York City.
For Hughes, transitioning TNR into a digital powerhouse proved to be a greater challenge than he expected. “I will be the first to admit that when I took on this challenge nearly four years ago, I underestimated the difficulty of transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company in today’s quickly evolving climate,” Hughes wrote today. “The unanswered question for The New Republic remains: can it find a sustainable business model that will power its journalism in the decades to come?”
Nuzzel’s mobile discovery feature. Nuzzel
Nuzzel’s mobile search function. Nuzzel
Nuzzel’s mobile Add Favorite function. Nuzzel
Nuzzel’s new site. Nuzzel
Nuzzel’s mobile discovery feature. Nuzzel
Nuzzel’s mobile search function. Nuzzel
Nuzzel’s mobile Add Favorite function. Nuzzel
Nuzzel’s new site. Nuzzel
Social news service Nuzzel has a captive audience. Tech journalists and venture capitalists are big fans. But that’s a small crowd.
Nuzzel works by suggesting stories to users based on how many times they’ve been shared by those they follow on Twitter. For example, if you follow a bunch of venture capitalists, you may find a story about Jack Dorsey or Square today in your Nuzzel feed.
The model makes a lot of sense—if you use Twitter. The problem is that a lot of people don’t use Twitter.
So to solve this problem, Nuzzel is launching a new version of its service today that it has dubbed Nuzzel for Everyone. Twitter users can still sign up and get a customized feed, but non-Twitter users now have a way to use Nuzzel, too. Anyone can download Nuzzel or open the website to find feeds built off of what people are talking about on Twitter. But now you yourself don’t have to use Twitter to see them.
“If you’re a regular person, one of the other billion-plus people online, if you can even find one celebrity or community feed on Nuzzel that’s somehow relevant to you, I think that would be a massive shift for a lot of people,” says Nuzzel founder Jonathan Abrams, who previously founded early social networking site Friendster.
Users can now subscribe to Nuzzel-created feeds that follow relevant Twitter users—anything from a feed about libraries made up of librarians and archivists on Twitter to football to LGBTQ politics. You can also follow the Nuzzels of other users built off their own Twitter feeds, like Marc Andreessen or Steve Martin.
For Nuzzel, this shift marks a significant attempt at expansion after landing a new round of $1.7 million in funding from investors like Salesforce CEO Marc Beinoff. But, as with any app, even if you build it, people won’t necessarily come. Nuzzel’s competition ranges from Facebook and Twitter itself to news-specific apps like Apple News and Flipboard. But Abrams believes Nuzzel’s simplicity sets it apart. The news is right there waiting for you; you don’t have to go through the labor of curating your own feeds. “I don’t think regular people are ever going to do that,” he says.
After a tumultuous year, Gawker Media—known for its gossip, commentary, and sharp takes on the news of the day—is refocusing and reorganizing for 2016. In two internal memos released today, Gawker founder Nick Denton and executive editor John Cook revealed plans to sharpen the focus of the site’s seven main verticals, including Gawker.com and Gizmodo, while killing sub-sites and laying off several employees.
“In today’s crowded and confusing digital media world, you should focus on your strengths and have a clear message for your audience,” Denton said in an internal memo. “That’s especially true for a self-funded digital media company like Gawker Media Group.”
The most dramatic shift for the company will come to its flagship site Gawker.com, which will be moving away from covering news and gossip more generally to focusing on politics, specifically the 2016 presidential election and related campaigns. “The shift in focus will necessarily mean that certain kinds of stories that Gawker has trafficked in in the past will go by the wayside,” Cook said in another memo.
One Thousand Flowers
As part of the reorganization, the company is laying off seven staffers. “We can’t reshape the site’s focus without shifting personnel,” Cook said. The restructuring comes just two days after former Gawker writer Dayna Evans published a scathing look at the company’s treatment of women. One of the laid-off staffers, Jason Parham, was known at the site for being one of the site’s more visible advocates for inclusion. The company said that it will be creating six new jobs where they’re needed.
While Gawker.com shifts to cover politics, changes are coming to other popular verticals Jezebel and Gizmodo, as well. Sister site Jezebel, known for its coverage of women’s issues, will “become the primary voice for celebrity and pop culture.” The site will also be launching a health, beauty, and self-care section. Tech site Gizmodo, meanwhile, will now include coverage from science site io9.
The company will also be shuttering a number of niche sites, like Gawker’s weather blog The Vane; Jezebel’s Kitchenette; Jalopnik’s Fight Club; Defamer; and Valleywag. “We have taken a hard look across the whole network at our strategy with subsites. In many ways, we let 1,000 flowers bloom, a strategy that resulted in some successes, like Adequate Man, but also bred confusion among the readers and a thicket of different editorial rabbit holes,” Cook said.
‘Looseness with Budgets’
The question in all of this, of course, is, well, why? For Gawker, the latest restructuring follows a tough year for the company. Over the summer, it lost both its executive editor and Gawker.com’s editor-in-chief following Denton’s decision to pull a controversial story. The company also remains engaged in a lengthy and costly legal battle against Hulk Hogan. The trial is set to begin next year.
In one memo today, Cook also suggested that the company may feel some stress in its proverbial wallet. “I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all felt some measure of looseness with budgets over the past year as we rapidly expanded and moved into our new space. The fact of that matter is that we need to tighten up, and make sure that we’re strategic and focused in how we deploy our resources,” he added.
The company also seems to be cutting back on development costs with its proprietary blogging platform, Kinja. “On the technology front, we will no longer seek to develop Kinja as an open blogging platform, given the competition that exists from technology companies devoted entirely to that challenge,” Denton said. For Gawker, an independent media company without outside financing to fall back on, restructuring, refocusing, and cutting back may make the most sense when the future remains unclear.
In the hopes of attracting new longterm subscribers, The New York Times is now offering college students digital subscriptions to the paper for $1 a week.
“In July, the Times tested the $1-a-week offer and found the students had a very positive response to the deeply discounted rate,” the company said in a statement. The subscription will include access to NYTimes.com as well as full access to its smartphone apps.
For the Times, attracting college students is key to locking in a subscriber base that’s grown up thinking of their phones as the primary medium for consuming news. During the company’s last earnings call, chief executive Mark Thompson noted that so-called education subscriptions had made notable progress, contributing to The Times’ digital subscription growth. The thinking is, if college students are willing to sign up for $1 a week and like what they get, at least some may stick around even after they’ve graduated and have to start paying full price.
Like much of the legacy media world, The New York Times continues to adjust to changing reader habits. The Times passed a milestone of more than 1 million digital-only subscribers earlier this year, but it still depends heavily on revenue coming from its print business. As print continues to decline, it will need to continue to grow its digital subscription business to succeed.
The company says that in the past students have been able to sign up for a digital subscription for $7.50 per month, 50 percent off the standard rate. So an extra $3.50 less might not seem like a big deal. But for college students on lean budgets, $1 a week seems like it’s about as cheap as the paper can get without offering it for free.
VICE may have a reputation as an edgy media bad boy, but these days its business couldn’t be more mainstream. From the web to YouTube to HBO, Snapchat to print (yes, the magazine still exists!) to JetBlue, the VICE brand has become ubiquitous. So it’s only natural that VICE would seek to extend its presence to a full-time home on television.
Today VICE officially revealed that it’s partnering with A+E Networks to launch its own cable channel, VICELAND, in early 2016. The company says the channel will reach around 70 million homes.
“This network is the next step in the evolution of our brand and the first step in our global roll-out of networks around the world,” said Shane Smith, VICE co-founder and CEO.
VICELAND will premiere with shows like Gaycation with Ellen Page and Ian Daniel and Huang’s World with Eddie Huang. The other titles all sound very VICE-ish, including VICE World Of Sports, Black Market, Weediquette, Flophouse, and Party Legends.
The development of many of the shows and the channel as a whole has been guided in part by Spike Jonze, the writer and director best known for Jackass and Her. “We wanted VICELAND to be different, to feel like everything on there has a reason to exist and a strong point of view,” Jonze said.
As a key part of its strategy, VICE is promising to bring that point of view to the channel’s ads, too.
“Drawing on VICE’s history as an innovator in branded content online, VICELAND plans to work with brand partners to re-imagine the nature of the television commercial too—making the commercial time a valuable extension of the entertainment programming itself,” the company said in its press release. This is what is known as the “agency model,” in which the creators of content work with advertisers to give the ads themselves a similar look and feel. And VICE has been a pioneer of this approach, at least in its current incarnation.
That said, cable channels with “a strong point of view” aren’t exactly new. Nor are ads meant to double as entertainment. VICE may bring a new sensibility to the way it tells stories. But a cable channel that runs infomercials? As a business move, what’s striking about the new VICE channel is the decision by a “new media” company to go in a direction that’s demonstrably old.
Today old media giants like Disney, NBC, and CBS are preoccupied with trying to figure out how to capture the fickle attentions of younger audiences— what new media upstarts like VICE, BuzzFeed, and Snapchat do best. By embracing a more traditional medium, VICE is evincing an awareness that just because it’s been part of the movement that’s caused old media to scramble, disruption alone doesn’t reach every possible audience member. Companies that can afford to do so will try to reach as many people as possible on as many mediums as possible. Today’s media industry offers no certainties. So anyone who can is trying to do it all.
ESPN is shutting down the much-loved sports and culture site Grantland.
“After careful consideration, we have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise,” the company said in a statement posted on its site.
Grantland was launched by veteran sports writer Bill Simmons in 2011. It gained a loyal readership with a number of high profile journalists like Wesley Morris, Zach Lowe, Katie Baker, Andy Greenwald, and Alex Pappademas joining its ranks to become well-known for their distinctive points of view on sports and culture and the consistently high quality of their work.
ESPN said in May of this year that they would not be renewing Simmons’ contract, leading to an exodus of writers following his departure. The company’s sudden suspension of the site, however, took many by surprise.
“Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun,” the company said in its statement. “Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality.”
The shuttering of Grantland will affect around 40 employees. ESPN will honor existing contracts, and it will have conversations with individual writers to see where they might fit in with other parts of ESPN.com. Some may choose to leave ESPN, following other writers and editors who have left since Simmons was pushed out in May. Departures in recent weeks may have contributed to the decision to shutter the site now. Grantland staffers who don’t have contracts but were full time employees will likely be laid off.
In addition to concerns over staff departures, ESPN appears to have wanted Grantland to move away from pop culture. Once that decision was made, it became less apparent why Grantland sports content should be separate from the rest of ESPN.com. ESPN offers longform sports journalism in its magazine as well as on ESPN.com. Grantland on its own was apparently never profitable.
Though readers continued to come to the site after Simmons was forced out, its audience overlapped readily with that of ESPN. In fact, ESPN.com was the number one driver of referral traffic to Grantland compared to any other single source (including Facebook), a source tells WIRED. For ESPN, having all of its sports content live under the ESPN brand may be a way to sell more valuable ads by consolidating eyeballs.
ESPN remains committed to FiveThirtyEight, the sports and politics site helmed by Nate Silver, and The Undefeated, a site devoted to black culture that has experienced its own turmoil. It’s unclear whether the company imagines those sites one day also being folded into ESPN itself, or if the company sees them as offshoots to attract a different audience to ESPN (and parent company Disney’s) doors.
On Twitter, writers, editors, and fans were critical of how ESPN handled the site suspension.
Well that’s the first time I’ve ever found out I was laid off via Twitter
— Michael Baumann (@MJ_Baumann) October 30, 2015
ESPN’s handling of @Grantland33 and its staff post-Simmons has been, to be blunt, a train wreck. That staff deserved much better.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) October 30, 2015
“We’ve got the best NBA writer alive and a rare collection of diverse—for this industry—talent. What’s next, boss?” “Set it all on fire.” — Jared Wade (@Jared_Wade) October 30, 2015
Oh christ. Just seeing the Grantland news. ESPN is the worst.
— Foster Kamer (@weareyourfek) October 30, 2015
The world of virtual reality is going to take us to places we’ve never been before—across the globe, or to new, unimaginable planets. Or maybe it will just help you read the New Yorker. Who can say for sure?
— Evan Ratliff (@ev_rat) September 23, 2015
Five years after its launch, The Atavist Magazine, a digital magazine created by startup Atavist, is killing its native app.
In a post today, cofounders Evan Ratliff and Jefferson Rabb explain their latest decision as a bet on the web. “Our idea was to create a new kind of magazine, specifically designed to be read on phones and tablets,” they write in a post today. “So when we sat down to create our publication—and the publishing software behind it, the Atavist platform—there was only one logical place to start: in a native mobile app.”
Five years ago, a native app seemed like the best way to design and showcase their stories. But since then, they say, “the web caught up.” “Not only was there very little we could do in a native app that we couldn’t do on the web, but the structures of the native app environment made it nearly impossible to design well for both,” they write.
Apple and Amazon’s app stores presented their own difficulties and delays in allowing new features to be smoothly integrated, they say, while readers are ultimately choosing to find, share, and read stories on social or the web. “In an era where stories are increasingly found and shared through social media, discovery in the app store was a nightmare of its own,” Ratliff and Rabb say. “We were reaching a readership often 50 to 100 times larger on the web than what we could in the app.”
Only A Handful of Apps
Atavist’s decision to move away from a native app is consistent with what’s happened to some other digital first upstarts that have tried to launch an iPad magazine or app. The aptly named The Magazine, an experiment on iOS, folded. Circa, a news app on Android and iOS, shut down earlier this year. The Daily, an iPad-only magazine created by News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch, didn’t last two years. Apple itself shuttered its Newsstand app, which relied largely on users finding individual publishers inside of the app.
Directing readers to native news apps ultimately remains a challenge. Readers only want—and check—so many apps. According to a Forrester report earlier this year, 85 percent of a person’s time spent on a smartphone is in only a handful of apps. While native apps may be possible for large publishers such as The New York Times or BuzzFeed, who can drive their audiences to their platforms, or for aggregators like Flipboard or Longform, Atavist says, most of the rest of the publishing world must rely on the web—or social apps that drive users back to their sites.
And yet those very social apps where people do spend their time, like Facebook and Snapchat, are increasingly hoping to draw audiences to articles they host natively. Facebook launched Instant Articles earlier this year, and Snapchat launched Discover to give readers a native news experience. Apple News’ launch last week now means another platform will host stories too. (Google and Twitter are rumored to be working on a similar “instant” alternative, though Re/code reports they won’t host publishers’ content.) Atavist acknowledges that in the future they may look to those alternatives. But the web isn’t dead just yet.
Business Insider appears to be handling its business.
Re/code reports that the digital upstart is nearing a deal with German publisher Axel Springer that would value the site at around $560 million. If the deal closes on those terms, it would price Business Insider at more than twice the value of storied newspaper The Washington Post, which Amazon head Jeff Bezos bought for $250 million in 2013.
The details of the deal are not yet clear nor confirmed. An earlier report in the German Manager Magazin said Axel Springer was willing to pay 500 million euros (around $555 million) for a controlling stake in Business Insider, which would mean the company’s valuation could be even larger in that case than an outright sale, as Re/code notes. (Neither Axel Springer nor Business Insider would comment for this story.)
The news comes at a time when an increasing number of old-school publishing and broadcasting titans are investing in digital upstarts. NBCUniversal has invested millions in BuzzFeed and Vox Media. (Vox has meanwhile acquired smaller upstart Re/code.) Hearst has funneled funding to Complex, Refinery29, and BuzzFeed. Axel Springer was the lead investor in a Business Insider funding round earlier this year, putting $25 million into the company, and invested in Ozy last year.
Pouring money into startups seems to be the latest bet for stodgier media giants hoping to reach a younger audience online and stake a claim in a digital-first world.
Apple’s iOS 9 is on fire. The company says that users have adopted iOS 9 faster than any other update. More than 50 percent of capable devices are now using the latest operating system, which has only been available since Wednesday.
Apple’s senior marketing VP Phil Schiller says, “iOS 9 is off to an amazing start, on pace to be downloaded by more users than any other software release in Apple’s history.”
The news industry is one of many that’s watching Apple users’ transition to iOS 9 closely. Two interrelated features have arrived with the new operating system that have the potential to mess with publishers’ business strategy on one of the world’s most popular mobile platforms: ad blocking and Apple News. Already third-party ad blockers have risen to the top of the paid apps chart in the Apple App Store. The question is whether consumers blocking ads that pay for the content they consume are also lending their eyeballs to Apple News.
Apple has not yet shared any information about how many people have tried out its new newsreader. But the app is automatically downloaded to any iPhone or iPad that upgrades to the latest iOS and cannot be deleted. For publishers hoping to reach users on a new platform, the speedy iOS 9 adoption rate may mean more people try it out soon. (Others, of course, will chuck it in their digital junk drawer never to be seen again.)
To Have Or Have Not (Ads)
Apple News, for which WIRED was a launch partner, may be more than just a way for publishers to increase their audiences. News has become increasingly distributed. Readers are no longer solely coming to publishers’ stories via their homepage or links. They find stories on Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Snapchat. Some of these tech intermediaries bring readers back to the original web story; others have native versions in their service or app.
Publishers have expressed worries about the amount of control they cede to tech giants. Facebook in particular has become increasingly important, surpassing Google as the number-one referrer of traffic to major publishers. Apple News doesn’t return that control to publishers, but if successful, it has the potential to act as a check against any one giant from monopolizing reader attention, as well as checking the power of any one platform to control what news readers see.
More than anything, publishers will be watching to see what kind of user behavior iOS 9’s new options breed. If readers are able to block ads effectively, will they stay on the cleaner, faster, ad-free mobile web? Or will the News app’s streamlined user experience draw in readers who may give the new app (which will have ads) a try?
It’s possible that ad blockers will wind up forcing publishers to become more dependent on third-party tech companies for revenue. In the meantime, perhaps reacting to past failures to adapt to change, publishers are pushing stories, videos, infographics—as much content as they can produce—to just about anywhere they can to reach readers. When no one knows what’s going to work, it seems, hedging its bets seems to be the content industry’s strategy for staying in the game.
ABC News doesn’t just want to take you live to Damascus. It wants to make you feel like you’re there.
The news organization launched ABC News VR today in the hopes of doing just that, with an assist from virtual reality tech company Jaunt. For ABC’s first VR project, viewers can immerse themselves in a story about Syria to see the streets and sights in a way that they wouldn’t be able experience otherwise without visiting the war zone.
“In early August, Alexander Marquardt and his team traveled to Damascus to explore the secret holding rooms where curators are working tirelessly to protect and preserve Syria’s endangered antiquities,” ABC News president James Goldston wrote in a note to staff. “From the Damascus Citadel and Souk to the Umayyad Mosque and the National Museum, [Marquardt] transports viewers into the story, providing a depth of reporting—and a personal guide—unlike anything we’ve done before.”
Viewers can watch the immersive news report on ABC’s website, but for the true VR experience you need to download the Jaunt app to your phone and view the broadcast in a basic VR rig such as Google Cardboard.
ABC is not the first news organization to look to virtual reality as another kind of tool to bring news consumers to places they might not otherwise be able to experience. The New York Times Magazine has experimented with VR, and news sites like RYOT have cropped up to make VR-fueled documentaries. For both new and old media companies, virtual reality may soon be another way to bring viewers what they want: to experience the world.
The Washington Post is finally getting a little more help from its owner, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The online retailer will now offer the digital edition of the pay-walled Post free for six months to its millions of Amazon Prime members, as first reported by Capital New York. After six months, Prime users will be able to continue to buy the Post for a reduced rate.
“Offering free access to new subscribers through Prime allows us to connect with millions of members nationwide who may not have tried the Post in the past,” said Steve Hills, president and general manager of the Post, in a statement.
The Amazon founder and CEO bought the Post two years ago for $250 million. Since then pundits have wondered if and how Bezos would integrate the Post into his other products, especially Amazon Prime and the Kindle. Last November, Kindle Fire users gained the chance to get reduced subscriptions to the Post with a new app.
Prime users will now be joining them. A digital subscription to the Post normally costs $9.99 a month, but Prime users will be able to get it for $3.99 after the free six months. The publisher has had a metered paywall on its site since June 2013. Readers coming to the site directly can read 20 stories for free; those who come from Google or social sites can read unlimited stories. The Post will be in addition to other services Prime members can get, including free shipping and free film, TV, and music-streaming for $99 a year.
Remember Yahoo? The dotcom 1.0 survivor with big plans to expand aggressively into media with high profile hires like Katie Couric and David Pogue?
Well, it may not be working out as planned. Kathy Savitt, the chief marketing officer and head of media at Yahoo since 2012, said today that she is leaving the company to join the independent studio STX Entertainment.
“We appreciate her contributions to Yahoo over the past three years and wish her well,” a Yahoo spokesperson said in an email. “While we don’t have specific details to share at this time, we have strong leaders in both Yahoo’s media and marketing organizations who will continue to drive the business forward.”
This may all sound kind of insidery, but for Yahoo, Savitt was a big deal, and her departure suggests a shift in the company’s media strategy is coming. Savitt led the company’s marketing and audience development strategies, and was also in charge of editorial and video content for sites like Yahoo News, Finance, Sports, and the so-called digital magazines. In the past few years, Yahoo under Savitt has made a huge push to broaden its news and content offerings to become a media destination. But unlike the new new media darlings you hear so much about—the BuzzFeeds, Business Insiders, and Vices of the world—Yahoo has focused on, well, keeping it old school, poaching talent from legacy publications like The New York Times, Time, and ABC.
In 2013, Yahoo hired big-name legacy journalists including former Times deputy news editor Megan Liberman, Times magazine chief political reporter Matt Bai, Times tech columnist David Pogue, and ABC News anchor and talk show host Katie Couric. Earlier this year, it tapped Martha Nelson, a veteran editor from Time Inc., to become its global editor-in-chief. Meanwhile, its upstart competitors have invested in tech, young talent, and experimentation, even as the same legacy publishers from which Yahoo has poached are having to play catch-up with the startups building the future of media online.
Savitt’s departure may be an indication that the company may be looking to go a different direction as its advertising business continues to stumble. Despite Yahoo’s bet, the future of media doesn’t look a lot like its past.
Mobile news alerts are becoming the norm. If you have a news app on your phone and the stock market drops, you get an alert. A court case comes to a close, your phone flashes. A storm hits somewhere far, far away, and you know in an instant.
For publishers, these kind of alerts are an unprecedented way of grabbing readers’ attention and distributing information. But, we wondered, what do readers really think?
So on Friday, we asked WIRED readers to help us out with a totally unscientific survey. We asked, and more than 600 WIRED readers answered. (And several of you wrote in.) The verdict? You don’t really like mobile news alerts, but you’ll tolerate them. Well, kind of.
Yes, But No
Most of our respondents, in fact, get news alerts, though many of you have muted them.
“Personally, I’m still an old-school RSS lover,” Kevin Hill writes to us. “What I want is all the best information, high signal and low noise, just a click away.” And news alerts? All muted, he says.
Hate, Acceptance, Hate
Many of you hate them so much so that you’ve turned all alerts off. But even if you do get them, you don’t really like them. “News alerts such as weather and traffic [are] most valuable,” says reader Margaret T. “Everything else is secondary and maybe even alarmist with very few exceptions.”
Another reader, Eva Rinaldi, says, “I’d be fine with getting quite a lot of updates on actual new, breaking stories. But it’s important to me to not get another update on the same story until something has radically changed, and to have control over what topics I get updated on.”
Okay, so what then?
Many of you would prefer to never see another news alert ever. But, for others, when disaster strikes, you want to know.
“I get under the hood and disable everything that might serve up annoying things,” Lorie Johnson tells WIRED. “The only urgent thing I want to know about is the weather, because during severe storm season, that really is a matter of life and death.”
Mobile news alerts are becoming an increasingly important way for news organizations to reach you. I don’t mind them, but, hey, I work in news. We want to hear from you, WIRED reader, so tell us how those pesky alerts make you want to scream, or help keep you informed.
We’ll update later once we hear from you. You can also write to me to share your thoughts.
New media savvy, meet old media money. NBCUniversal’s long-rumored $200 million investment in BuzzFeed was officially confirmed by both companies today, and both are hoping the money leads to a fruitful exchange of mojo.
For BuzzFeed, it’s the chance to shoot for bigger-budget fare. “We are looking forward to collaborating with them on projects we’d never be able to do on our own,” chief executive Jonah Peretti said, noting that he hopes NBCU will help BuzzFeed get into TV and film.
For NBCU, the investment is part of what appears to be a big gambit to better reach young viewers. “They reach a massive, loyal audience and have proven to be among the most creative, popular and influential new media players,” Steve Burke, chief executive of NBCU, said of BuzzFeed.
NBCU also recently invested $200 million in Vox Media. Meanwhile, Comcast, NBCU’s corporate parent, has reportedly expressed interest in other new media companies such as Business Insider and Vice. Comcast is also reportedly developing a new Internet video player to target millennials who may not currently pay for cable; BuzzFeed has been mentioned as a potential partner in the venture.
One thing NBCU doesn’t appear to be seeking from its investment is a quick cash-out, at least to hear BuzzFeed tell it. “The investment from NBCU and our rapidly growing revenue assures our financial independence, allowing us to grow and invest without pressure to chase short-term revenue or rush an IPO,” Peretti said.
Gawker has kicked off a trend. Following the decision by the news-and-gossip site’s writers to unionize earlier this summer, Vice Media’s US editorial staff voted to do the same today—about 80 employees in all.
“We are proud of the work we do here at Vice,” the employees told Vice in a statement shared by the Writers Guild of America, East, who will be representing them. “We love being part of a company that is changing media and having an impact on the world. We believe that a union is a logical step for the long-term legacy of the company.”
In addition to Gawker, Salon and The Guardian US voted to unionize earlier this summer as well. The votes represent a growing interest in old-fashioned labor organizing among digital media workers—a practice more common among traditional old-media stalwarts like The New York Times or The Associated Press.
Vice co-founder and CEO Shane Smith responded to the decision in the grandiose style that has typified Vice’s rise from hipster bad-boy to billion-dollar media company:
“I’m so proud of all my perfect diamonds here at Vice. Every single day your ideas and work continue to blow me away. I am proud to support all of you—and as an old grey-haired man all I want is for my beautiful Vice family to be happy—those writers who voted to unionize and those who did not. I love you all, and together we will conquer the world.”
The New York Times now has more than one million paid digital-only subscribers, the paper of record’s parent company said today. That sounds like a significant accomplishment, given the cries of naysayers when The Times first put up its paywall in 2011. Critics doubted online readers would pay for news; some optimists—and a lot of publishers—sure hoped they would.
“Can a Paywall Stop Newspaper Subscribers from Canceling?” The Atlantic asked in September 2011. “How to Hack the New York Times Paywall… With Your Delete Key,” Mashable explained. (Remember that?) “The New York Times Paywall Is Destined for Failure,” PC Magazine wrote.
Well, apparently, not.
“This is a major milestone for our digital consumer business,” Mark Thompson, president and chief executive of The New York Times company, wrote in a blog post. “We believe that no other news organization has achieved digital subscriber numbers like ours or comparable digital subscription revenue.”
The more than 1 million digital-only subscribers is in addition to 1.1 million print-and-digital subscribers, the company says. (For context, in April 1995, The Times reported a weekly circulation of 1.17 million with its Sunday paper reaching 1.77 million.)
“Times journalism has a broader reach and wider impact now than at any time in our history,” says Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the Times’ publisher. “It is for our many readers around the world, in particular for our many loyal paying subscribers, that we remain fully committed to a continued investment in original, quality journalism.”
So naysayers begone, right? At least some people will pay for news online, funding the Times’ journalism through both subscriptions and the committed eyeballs advertisers seek. Unlike the early days of the web, actually paying for content is no longer unthinkable. People are paying for subscriptions to entertainment—think Netflix and Spotify—even though they could find similar offerings somewhere online for free. Maybe news isn’t so different.
And yet the question remains for the Times, as print advertising revenue and print copies sold continue to drop, whether the gains in digital subscriptions will be enough to offset its traditional revenue base. The Times’ site sees more than 57 million monthly unique visitors—in other words, a vast majority who don’t pay. And the company said in its earnings report this week that only a third of its advertising revenue comes from digital. Even if one million is a nice number, the Times still needs millions more.
Snapchat just booted some old school media for the new school.
Today, the instant-messaging company rolled out new content partners for its Discover news portal, dropping launch partners Yahoo and Warner Music Group in favor of BuzzFeed and iHeartRadio. And the reason seems pretty clear: it’s all about the teens (and, well, those millennials, too). BuzzFeed and iHeartRadio are what the kids like.
No doubt, with the Snapchat partnership, Yahoo and Warner Music were trying to reach a younger audience. But for that audience, something like BuzzFeed is already a popular brand with broad entertainment and news coverage, which may spur more people to check it out, along with other Discover channels.
Snapchat launched Discover earlier this year as a new way for its millions of predominantly young users to follow daily news and entertainment without ever leaving the hugely popular app. Discover features nine partners each with their own controlled “channel” that stays up for 24-hours, including media companies like Vice, ESPN, and CNN.
At launch, Discover seemed like a major shift for Snapchat—and yet the company appears to want to continue to grow the portal. Earlier this month, Snapchat made it easier for users to see the channels, by adding them to a central “Stories” screen, which also features shared updates from friends, locations, and events. And Re/code has reported that the company plans to add a second group of channels with more partners later this year. As its users grow up, the platform will continue to grow up as well.