Trust, reach and business models: the things you learn when launching a media startup

When in doubt, ask an expert.

Emilie Kodjo
Jul 20, 2017 · 7 min read

Startup founders often have a very acute take on what could be the solutions to enduring problems in the media. Put that on the account of having put their whole lives in the balance to create a product that can solve a very tangible problem, or simply for having spent months on end digging deep into the factsheets, reports, research and algorithms.

We talked to startup co-founder and CEO Mads Holmen from, a B2B recommendation service based on genuine user satisfaction and engagement, to get his take on the challenges facing digital media today, the roles of algorithms and business models, and how these fed his team’s work and the launch of his startup.

GEN: What are the challenges facing the media and publishing industries that gave you a direction with your startup?

Thankfully, even publishers who rely heavily on advertising income are coming around to the idea that cramming as many ads as possible into your site isn’t a great idea. Jack Marshall, over at The Wall Street Journal, spoke to publishers who are now adopting a “less is more” approach when it comes to the ads. Stripping out the most annoying ad formats can increase consumer engagement and actually increase ad revenue. This, however, requires a major change in thinking about UX and how you use your site’s real estate and rebuild the relationship to users.

Publishers are also getting more and more success from direct payment by subscribers or members, in many cases offsetting the difficult ad market and in some cases proving more successful. Subscriptions and other premium offerings are gaining increasing traction across the industry. What’s interesting here is that moving away from ads requires putting the user back at the centre of decision making again, not advertisers. Bob Gilbreath, ex-marketing boss and CEO of Ahalogy, recently said: “A funny thing happens once you completely focus your business around making paying customers happy; your product starts to get better”.

Algorithms lead many conversations when discussing audience engagement and reach, but also discovery. What is your take on them?

Source: Monday Note

Publishers need to join the data feedback game like their lives depend on it. Provide people and newsrooms with information about their actions in real time, then give them a chance to change those actions, and use that information to improve the offering. Not getting on this train means fighting blind against competitors with advanced radar and night vision. All companies in the attention economy are ultimately data companies, no exception. As an operational principle BuzzFeed only invests in activities or channels where they can get quality feedback data back the other way.

What of the effects on business models?

There’s an opportunity for most publishers to deliver better value to their audiences and convert that value into real revenue. As people, we have limited time and we live in a world where there is too much content — we could never hope to consume even a fraction of what’s online. To make users happy, publishing is changing from printing and distribution to filtering and curation. People are willing to pay well for this as a service, and subscription is growing.

Source: Bibblio

The future of all content based commerce is based on continued engagement and attention.

That means more creative and flexible business models that monetise beyond traditional ways; conferences, workshops, merchandising, partnerships and other parallel channels. The book of the future needs to be what the feature film has been to Disney for 50 years — the centre of a revenue-generating entertainment and cultural universe.

What were the elements that fed your reflexion while building your start-up?

A direct visit to a content page only gives publishers a brief opportunity to get the visitors’ attention. Will your visitor return to their feed or other tasks, or can you get them to stay on your site and engage with that second and third article? Ben Thompson, founder of Stratechery, explained the importance of the second post in an interview with Vox: “The most important article on your blog is the second article someone reads. Say someone follows a link and they read an article and think, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good.’ (…) and they read another article, if that next article is also really good, then you’ve established something meaningful, and you have an inkling of a relationship with that reader.”

If you want your visitors clicking through to that crucial second page, you need to engage them with quality, relevant recommendations to the rest of your content. This is what we do.

Bibblio’s Mads Holmen at ASU GSV in San Diego

We want to bring trust back to content recommendation, so we avoid paid-for-content at the bottom of your page, and the associated brand damage. Publishing is a long game where customers might be loyal for 20–40 years. Yes, there are sites that want to be associated with revelations such as “Tiger Woods’ Daughter Was a Cute Kid, But What She Looks Like Now is Insane”. But for everyone else, there is a better way. Those clicks also lead your visitors away from your own content. No second article at all, and no more relationship with that visitor. I’ll leave the brand damage to your own judgement.

Source: Digiday

What happens then when trust takes precedent in the relationship to the reader?

When your audience really trusts you to give them a great experience the will also engage with you more. A great example of this is subscription platform The Correspondent, whose members helped journalists investigate whether Shell already knew about their own role in global warming decades ago. De Correspondent are ad-free, 56,000 members strong and growing. Politico recently announced that 50% of their revenue come from 20.000 high paying subscribers getting a tailored product.

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) was the worldwide…

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) was the worldwide association of editors-in-chief founded in 2011. It ceased its activities in November 2019 due to lack of sustainable finances.

Emilie Kodjo

Written by

UN Communications consultant, Former Director of Communications and Public Affairs, The Global Editors Network

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) was the worldwide association of editors-in-chief founded in 2011. It ceased its activities in November 2019 due to lack of sustainable finances.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store