In this week’s Briefing:
- Large platforms and social media services are slowly ditching news content, forcing publishers to rethink audience development and subscriber acquisition approaches.
- The Washington Post makes subscriber-only audio available on Apple Podcasts.
- “Honest paywalls” help boost conversions for consumer-facing apps.
Platforms are slowly ditching news
Major platforms and social media services have had complicated relationships with publishers over the past decade or so – particularly as it relates to news content. Now, the sentiments of large tech companies are becoming increasingly clear: driving traffic to publishers just isn’t in their interests.
In the past month alone, Facebook’s top news executive, Campbell Brown, left the company. X (formerly known as Twitter) removed headlines from links that appear across its platform. And Instagram executives reiterated that it has no intention of amplifying news content. Meanwhile, Google cut dozens of jobs in its news division, and its latest search algorithm changes and experiments with AI-generated search results have made publishers more wary of their reliance on the search giant than ever.
Dwindling traffic from large platforms will impact publishers across the board. Reaching and engaging new audiences will become increasingly challenging (and therefore more expensive) as organic distribution dries up and publishers are increasingly forced to pay.
But for publishers operating subscription and membership products specifically, reductions in organic traffic will have major implications for their conversion funnels and subscriber acquisition approaches – and could fundamentally change the underlying economics of their businesses.
Many publishers have oriented their acquisition approaches primarily around attracting and nurturing engagement through organic channels in recent years, for example. But as organic distribution dwindles, paid distribution will likely play an increasingly central role in subscriber acquisition strategies.
A shift further towards paid distribution and acquisition could be a double-edged sword for publishers. For some, the added costs will make their current operations untenable, raising questions about sustainability or breaking their models entirely. But at the same time, publishers that find ways to adapt and bake paid distribution into their models may find their businesses are at least more predictable and less exposed to the volatility and changing whims of third-party platforms.
Most successful digital media companies have one thing in common: the ability to adapt and survive as the ground beneath them moves perpetually. And as their relationships with platforms appear to wind down, publishers’ adaptability will continue to be tested in the months and years ahead.
The Washington Post makes subscriber-only audio available on Apple Podcasts
Apple introduced the ability for users to connect subscriptions and unlock subscriber-only content from third-party services within its Podcasts app in the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 17. The Washington Post says it’s now leveraging the functionality to offer paying subscribers some exclusive content, and to give them early access and ad-free versions of content that’s available to non-paying audiences. Bloomberg, The Economist, The Times, and The Wall Street Journal are among the other publishers making use of the functionality, according to Apple.
Publishers face difficult decisions around granting Google access to their content
The only way publishers can currently prevent their content from being used to inform Google’s AI-generated summaries is to prevent their sites from being crawled by Google entirely – therefore erasing their appearance in search results and across other Google products.
“Honest paywalls” help boost conversions for consumer-facing apps
Some consumer-facing SaaS tools and apps have found that “honest paywalls” have helped significantly increase trial conversions in recent years by being as transparent about the trial process as possible. Users are more likely to start trials if they’re confident they understand exactly what they’re getting into and – crucially – how and when to cancel, the thinking goes. Relatively few publishers have employed what could be described as “honest” paywall and checkout flows in recent years, but as regulatory scrutiny around their subscription practices mounts it could soon become a legal requisite in many markets.
Google News cuts dozens of jobs
Google cut more than 40 jobs in its Google News division last week. A Google spokesperson confirmed the cuts to CNBC but didn’t provide a number, and said there are still hundreds of people working on its news product. The move comes as relationships between Google and news publishers become increasingly strained, and as algorithm changes and experiments with AI-generated search results are making publishers more wary of reliance on the search giant than ever.
“We’re deeply committed to a vibrant information ecosystem, and news is a part of that long-term investment,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve made some internal changes to streamline our organization. A small number of employees were impacted.”
Advance Local drives subscriptions with high school sports content
Coverage of the 2022-2023 high school sports season across nine local markets has driven at least 16,000 news subscriptions to Advance Local publications, the company said. It’s now working to broaden its coverage of high school life in an effort to attract more subscriptions from parents.
How ChatGPT browses and reports the latest news
OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot now has the ability to “browse” the web and summarize its findings for users. The Reuters Institute asked it questions about various news stories to see how it fared in terms of speed, accuracy, bias, and understanding of misinformation, and concluded there is room for significant improvement. As the Institute notes, improvements will likely depend on possible government regulations and OpenAI’s ability to collaborate with news publishers on copyright and licensing issues.
YouTube tests disabling playbook for ad-blocking users
Google is conducting “a small experiment globally that urges viewers with ad blockers enabled to allow ads on YouTube or try YouTube Premium,” the company told The Verge. Forcing users to disable adblockers could help Google recover lost advertising revenue, of course, but it might prove more effective for driving the adoption of its ad-free YouTube Premium service.