Media Companies: Don’t Let Your Traffic Run Out the Side Door
Josh Elman
38516

Easier said than done. When every URL is one click away, the content package is dead.

The reason front pages have declined is because readers are effectively aggregating their feeds from the entire Internet every day, and choosing to read only the very best or at least the most popular stuff. Very few publishers have the scale to win this battle consistently, and create sufficient value so that readers choose to hit their home page first before dipping into their aggregated feeds on Twitter, FB etc. As a publisher, you have to convince people that your scrape of the day is better and more efficient than the alternative, namely the social recommends coming their way from a very large distributed network of people they trust.

The comparison between Instagram and Meerkat is not apt for publishers. Networks like Instagram have scale on an order of magnitude higher than any publisher operating on traditional methods (hire people, make assignments, edit stories, fact check) can ever hope to achieve. At Wired.com, over eight years as editor in chief, we maybe published 100,000 stories. (The magazine in the same period might have published 3,000.) At Medium our users are currently publishing that volume every few months or so, and I can imagine reaching a point where they will publish that amount in a single day.

Huge aggregator communities like Reddit have that kind of scale. A very small number of massive publishers, perhaps HuffPo and Buzzfeed, have achieved sufficient scale. But most publishers as a class do not have the scale to be the main general interest index of stuff I should read today.

I do think publishers can still compete for very small niche audiences, where creating a high-trust network of participating recommenders and public content creators is hard, or at least harder. They can do this because the number of real experts in these fields is small, and they can hire enough of them to become the hub of informed discussion.

If you follow your conclusions to the end, I think it leads to a place where publishers stop chasing large crowds of drive-by readers and viral posts, and focus on small cohorts where they can establish themselves clearly as the most relevant expert voice. These may serve groups of 100,000 or fewer people, and in some ways points to trade magazines and newspapers as the most healthy form of media in the future, bolstered heavily by aggregation. This may not be a bad thing, and it may be a world in which home pages are relevant again. But it is not where most of the energy in publishing is going from what I can see.