The Paralysis of Independent Online Media (from six years ago)



I wrote this to some friends in November of 2013, and one person asked me not to publish it for fear of ruining a live deal conversation. I held it, because my rant was less important than the livelihoods of people at that company. Forgot about it until a month or so ago. Go figure, the one time I am prescient it stays buried in my inbox. Though I did miss the whole subscriptionization of online media, which should have been forehead-slappingly obvious to me from the below.

A big set of important, successful online media companies are stuck right now. They're dancing with each other, but very few of them are going home with anyone:

These companies all have branded ads as their main way of making money, no matter what they call it (native!). They use content as the anchor of their appeal to users -- of which they have many millions. Some of these companies are newer, some older. They all have tens of millions of dollars a year in revenue, with real customers who adore them. They were all supposed to ride the wave of more ad money moving online (every year we hear some version of "when online ad dollars catch up with the percentage of time people spend online, just wait!"*).

Yet they are paralyzed.

If they’re profitable, they’re not making all that much money. If they’re growing, they’re not growing all that fast (at least by the standards of other consumer Internet companies). They sell pixels, which are plentiful, to advertisers, who (Read more...)