This article was first published by Digital Context Next on 2nd December 2022
Some publishers are evaluating the impact of a Twitter implosion on their website traffic. By Apr 2023, Meta will be sunsetting Instant Articles after seven years of serving fast news and meandering listicles. Who knows if Google AMP will have a similar destiny? It’s not unlikely.
In Jun 2020, New York Times left Apple News over a lack of reader connection. “Core to a healthy model between The Times and the platforms is a direct path for sending those readers back into our environments, where we control the presentation of our report, the relationships with our readers, and the nature of our business rules,” wrote COO Meredith Kopit Levien in a memo to NYT employees. “Our relationship with Apple News does not fit within these parameters.”
The platform problem
It makes you wonder if promoting articles to audiences on platforms is really worth a publisher’s while. As a publisher, distributing content via audience platforms sounds like a good strategy to “meet audiences where they are.” However, it’s laden with inherent risks.
First of all, there are way too many platforms: BuzzFeed, Medium, Apple News, Google News, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. And let’s not forget the fact that audiences, formats, and platforms change. For a publisher to port audiences from one platform to another or maintain audiences on multiple platforms is almost impossible.
Then there’s the fact that, as platforms grow in size, the share of revenue per publisher is bound to decrease over time. The math is simple: As more publishers join the network, the user’s share of time spent on any one publisher’s content decreases and hence the revenue-share for the publisher decreases.
Hence, the best strategy for every publisher is to leverage any audience platform with the express goal of building a direct relationship with audiences they find there. Then, they need to focus on ensuring that these audiences are monetized through direct-to-consumer (D2C) models as quickly as possible.
Individual creators and journalists are the earliest movers breaking free from walled gardens and there are clear lessons for publishers. Let’s uncover some examples of individuals who have leveraged their audiences inside walled gardens to eventually build direct consumer relationships and monetization models.
Jimmy Donaldson has officially broken the record for the most subscribers for an individual male on YouTube with his channel Mr Beast. It has amassed an unbelievable 112,193,139 subs, as verified on 17 November 2022.
For direct-to-consumer monetization, Donaldson has moved his audiences offline. Leveraging the trust he garnered on YouTube, he is now selling them burgers, chocolate bars, and merchandise.
Nuseir Yassin is an Arab–Israeli vlogger who is most notable for creating over 1,000 daily one-minute-long videos on Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram under the page Nas Daily.
Leveraging his fandom with aspiring creators, Yassin found a way to capitalize his own learnings to offer services, courses, and community platform to advertiser brands and up-and-coming creators. He has found the path to directly monetize his audiences outside the walled gardens.
Glenn Edward Greenwald
Glenn Edward Greenwald is an American journalist, lawyer, and author of four New York Times bestselling books on politics and law. He has won numerous awards for his investigative journalism.
After working as a journalist at Salon and The Guardian, Greenwald co-founded The Intercept in 2013 along with Poitras and journalist Jeremy Scahill. He resigned from The Intercept in October 2020 over debates around editorial freedom. Subsequently Greenwald started publishing on Substack and currently has tens of thousands of paid newsletter subscribers with whom he has a direct connection.
The walled garden of an audience platform provides a springboard for early experimentation and finding your niche as a publisher or creator. But without the ability to build a direct relationship with your audiences, you risk eventual irrelevance on the audience platform.. Finding unique ways to directly monetize your audiences will improve your chances of building a sustainable publishing business.
It is possible that publishers will start to offer their journalists a community management engine where journalists can develop direct relationships with their niche audience. A platform where journalists can offer merchandise, courses, newsletters (of course with publisher co-branding) for their specific niche audiences. Effectively, every journalist could be operating as a creator running mini-businesses inside the walled garden of the publisher.