A16Z’s brand publishing operation Future.com is dead in the water, per a report from Business Insider. The site and publication launched in June 2021 and was intended to be a vehicle for the VC firm to showcase its ideas and thinking.
A16Z isn’t giving up on publishing – Business Insider reports that the VC firm will continue to publish thought leadership on its main site and a16zcrypto.com. (Its longtime editor in chief, Sonal Chokshi, responsible for building up most of the firm’s content for years, moved over to lead editorial at a16z crypto earlier this year.) The firm will also keep running its flagship podcast, which it just relaunched, and plans to launch a new podcast on tech and culture shortly.
Still, Future’s demise is a cautionary tale that highlights how difficult brand publishing really is, particularly when it comes to launching a publishing brand from scratch and on its own domain, as Future.com was trying to do. A new domain means having to build up a new brand, as well as the complications it presents in terms of search: Domain age is one important factor in search ranking, for example.
Future.com shutdown also underscores what we’ve been covering for a few months: That brand publishing is due for a shakeout, one that will be hastened by an oncoming recession that forces discipline and efficiency onto nearly every company.
One essential ingredient is consistency. Future.com seems to have been hamstrung by a publishing schedule that never quite found its stride. In the early days it published every month – which, as I pointed out at the time, wasn’t necessarily proof of failure: Arguably, the kind of content it was produced, which amounted mostly to inspirational essays about techno-optimism, not news or investigative analysis, can benefit from a less conventional publishing schedule since it’s not tied to news cycles.
But publishing infrequently is different to publishing almost never. Future.com at one point published every few days, then narrowed again to a trickle before coming to an outright halt. The site got a decent amount of traffic, per BI, over a million in August until that dropped to less than half that by October, right around the time it appears to have ceased publishing.
Brand publishing requires consistency and patience. It’s tough to make a site work when you never publish on it. It often takes months or even years for properly architected brand publishing initiatives to yield discernible results. And I suspect it’s even harder to do when you try to do it on a new domain, under an entirely new brand.
As a new discipline, brand publishing also may be scrutinized more closely, particularly as the boom times end. There is rarely room for wastage during a recession, and things that don’t work are cut quickly.
Speaking to a handful of execs over the past few weeks about what they expect to see happen in the coming months, the consensus seems to be that brand publishing will come back down to earth, particularly among those who rushed to market with a boatload of cash and built what amounted to a house of cards without a clear reason for being.
The bottom line isn’t an inspiring one. “Media” is hard – even for those who seek to “sidestep” it, as a16z reportedly was out to do, although it never seemed like it actually even tried. And models that don’t pass the efficiency test, can’t show ROI, or are simply not able to muster much-needed engagement beyond launch day won’t make it. My guess is there will be more Futures in the coming months, as brand publishing gets a reality check amid a tightening economic environment.